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Hayabusa was launched on the M-V-5 booster on 9 May 2003 from the Kagoshima launch centre.

The M-V rocket was the largest and most capable of the Japanese Mu series of rockets. The solid fueled rocket measured 30.8 metres tall and 2.5 metres in diameter

The Mission

Hayabusa was a pioneering sample return mission. Powered by a highly efficient, ion propulsion system, The spacecraft was to rendezvous with the asteroid, 25143 Itokawa, survey its surface from a station keeping position, conduct several landings on the surface, collect samples, lift off and return the samples to Earth.

Hayabusa rendezvoused with Itokawa on 12 September 2005. The spacecraft spent several weeks mapping the asteroid, from station keeping positions nearby.

The first surface touchdown occurred on 20 November 2005.

This was the first time a spacecraft had made a controlled landing and take-off from an asteroid.

The target for the Hayabusa mission, 25143 Itokawa, was an asteroid measuring approximately 540 metres by 310 metres by 250 metres, with an orbital period of 1.52 years

The asteroid was discovered on 26 September 1998 by the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) Team. The asteroid was given the designation 'Asteroid 1998SF36'.

In 2003, the International Astronomical Union (IAU), named the asteroid for Professor Hideo Itokawa. Professor Itokawa, an aerospace engineer, pioneered the development of solid fueled rockets.

All communication was Hayabusa was lost on 9 December 2005. Contact was not made again until March 2006. Apparently a chemical leak, in the bi-propellant fuel system, caused the spacecraft to lose attitude control. Unable to stabilize itself, the spacecraft could not aim its antenna at Earth for a period of time.

A loss of signal and some confusion in the control room led to the non-lander turning in to a fully fledged lander when Hayabusa actually touched down and stayed on the surface of the asteroid for 30 minutes.

 

Hayabusa (Falcon)

Australian Space Commemorative Envelopes.

June 13 2010
A Douglas DC-8 airborne laboratory flew from NASA's Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility at Palmdale, California, carrying nearly 30 scientists and their instruments to Australia to track the return of JAXA's Hayabusa spacecraft  due to land at the Woomera test range on June 13 2010.

The team of astronomers onboard the DC-8 had their instruments secured adjacent to the plane's specialized windows. They flew at an altitude of 39,000 feet in the clear atmosphere above the proposed landing area that enabled the scientists to study the spacecraft and sample return capsule heat up high in the sphere. When Hayabusa reached an altitude of 190,000 feet, its heat shield was expected to experience temperatures of more than 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit, while the gas surrounding the capsule would reach 13,000 degrees Fahrenheit -- hotter than the surface of the sun.
The Hayabusa sample return capsule that contained the precious asteroid sample was designed to survive the entry intact. The sample was protected from the heat of entry by a thermal protection system.

After travelling approximately 5 billion kilometres in space, the Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa (Japanese for Falcon) returned to Earth landing  successfully at 2321 hours on Sunday 13 June 2010 in the Woomera protected area approximately 114 kilometres from the Woomera village. JAXA had successfully completed the guidance of the Hayabusa spacecraft, so that it landed exactly on target within metres of the planned landing zone in the Woomera Test Range. This luminous re-entry marked the end of the spacecraft's seven-year journey to attempt to bring a sample of asteroid Itokawa back to Earth.


The heat shield was ejected at the time of parachute deployment and was recovered by JAXA to study how well the thermal protection system performed under the extreme  conditions of entry similar to those that might be expected to exist on Mars.
 
I travelled to Woomera for this project and produced a limited edition of 100 sets of two commemorative envelopes for this very special occasion. They were post cancelled by a special hand cancel on Sunday 13 June, the date of the capsule landing.