Hayabusa is a Japanese space probe which returned back today to earth after it’s 7 years journey, a total of six billion kilometers back and forth, to asteroid Itokawa. The probe is supposed to contain some asteroid dust sample which will be analyzed by scientists to get better understanding of origin of universe. It can also help us in understanding how to defend ourselves if in case some asteroid is heading towards earth’s direction.
Hayabusa was launched by JAXA on May 9th, 2003. After some major initial glitches, it finally met asteroid Itokawa during September 2005. During this time, it collected lots of data studying asteroid’s shape, density, size, spin etc. Then finally the probe attempted to land on the asteroid in Nov 2005, but was unsuccessful, but scientists believe that some sample might still have been collected in the sample container, so let’s hope for the best. If the probe contains some asteroid sample, this would the first asteroid sample collected from it’s surface and only 4th such sample from outer space including Moon samples by Apollo mission, comet sample by Stardust mission and Solar material sample by Genesis mission. The probe was supposed to return back to earth about three years earlier, but owing to various technical glitches the return was delayed. But nonetheless, today it’s back and it landed in Australia’s Woomera Prohibited Range with the help of a parachute.
The landing provided a spectacular show in the skies of Australia, as it re-entered earth’s atmosphere and it’s components started burning up (see the picture above and video here). The tiny spec seen towards the end of the video is the core which contains the capsule. Heat resistant core protected the sample inside and finally the core landed with the help of a parachute. The beacon attached to the core has given the signal telling the scientists that it has landed safely somewhere in the Woomera Prohibited area and they will be hunting for it early in the morning. Congrats to JAXA once again, after successful deployment of solar sail IKAROS on June 10th, successful re-entry of Hybarus space probe is another achievement for the team! You can read in detail about this event in Emily Lakdawalla’s blog .
Updates: The capsule has been discovered while the heat shield is still being searched. [JAXA]