After seven years, Hayabusa has returned to earth, burning up in a fiery re-entry over Australia yesterday. While there was some doubt that final leg of Hayabusa’s epic journey would be successful, the sample capsule separated from the main spacecraft as planned, and has been found in the Australian outback (pictured left). Hayabusa suffered many failures of important navigational systems, leading to the homeward trip taking an extra three years. It was feared that the additional exposure to the harsh environment of space might have depleted the batteries which trigger the separation mechanism, and that the sample capsule might remain attached to the main body of the craft, or that the parachute might not deploy. Thankfully none of these scenarios happened, and the Japanese space program can celebrate a major victory.
Click here for a video of the re-entry filmed from the back of a NASA DC-8 aeroplane which was positioned to record Hayabusa’s return, and help find the sample capsule: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zeeXREhKiBM&feature=player_embedded