Hayabusa2 Lands on Asteroid Ryugu, Fires Projectile to Collect Sample

TOKYO (JAXA PR) — National Research and Development Agency Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) executed the asteroid explorer Hayabusa2 operation to touch down the surface of the target asteroid Ryugu for sample retrieval.

Data analysis from Hayabusa2 confirms that the sequence of operation proceeded, including shooting a projectile into the asteroid to collect its sample material. The Hayabusa2 spacecraft is in nominal state. This marks the Hayabusa2 successful touchdown on Ryugu.

Hayabusa2 Set to Land on Asteroid Ryugu on Feb. 22

JAXA Hayabusa2 Mission Status Report
(Week of 2019.1.28)

Hayabusa2 returned to the home position (HP) on 1/31 from the BOX-B operation which observed the north pole of Ryugu. At the HP, we carried our regularly performed observations for one rotation period. The distance of the Sun from Ryugu varies from 0.96au to 1.42au (1 au is the average distance between the Sun and Earth, about 150 million km). The angle formed by the Sun, Ryugu and the Earth (equivalent to the SPE angle) also varies from 0 degrees (at the conjunction time) to a maximum of about 40 degrees.

Depending on the current solar distance and solar angle, the characteristics of the reflected sunlight observed by the ONC and the characteristics of the thermal radiation observed by the TIR vary. We therefore observe Ryugu regularly from the HP because it is helpful to acquire data under different observation conditions. The observations on 1/31 were particularly valuable as the Sun’s distance about 1.42 au (near aphelion: the furthest distance) while the SPE angle was 10.1°.

Due to the relative positions of the Sun, Earth and Ryugu, the operation start time at the Usuda ground station is now so early that it is before the first train in the morning! The person in charge of operations and “Commander-san” who is responsible for sending commands to the spacecraft, are not able to reach the campus in time, so we first started acquiring telemetry data only from the Usuda station. Then in Sagamihara, we began our command operations a little later. We call operations like this “ripuro-nyukan”, which indicates that the telemetry is received automatically at the beginning of the operation. It is helpful for extremely cold mornings…

JAXA Hayabusa2 Mission Status Report
(Week of 2019.1.21)

This week was the tour or “BOX-B” operation. Here, the spacecraft’s altitude is lowered from the Home Position (HP) by about 2km and shifted towards the north pole by about 9km. We moved slowly over several days, arriving on 1/24. In the previous BOX-B operation, we observed the south pole hemisphere of the asteroid, so this time we moved to observe the north pole region from above.

We stayed at that location for about 1 day to make scientific observations, after which a ΔV (acceleration) was performed and we are now returning to the HP (schedule to arrive at HP on 1/31). Observations were made with all scientific instruments; ONC, TIR, NIRS3 and LIDAR. Working with both the Goldstone and Madrid ground stations, as well as Usuda, we were able to acquire the observational data over the weekend. We also gathered additional valuable data, including a health check for the ONC and dark imaging from the TIR during the tour.

Locations Named on Asteroid Ryugu

Asteroid Ryugu photographed by Japan’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft. (Credit: JAXA)

TOKYO (JAXA PR) — Place names for locations on the surface of Ryugu were discussed by Division F (Planetary Systems and Bioastronomy) of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature (hereafter IAU WG) and approved in December 2018. We will introduce the place names in this article and the background to their selection.


Japanese Company Launches Small Satellite to Create First Artificial Meteor Shower

ALE-1 satellite undergoing fit test. (Credit: JAXA)

TOKYO (ALE PR) — ALE’s first satellite was successfully launched and completed its first communication with ground station.

The space venture corporation ALE Co. Ltd., aiming to create the world’s first man made meteor via satellite technology, announced on January 18 the following updates regarding the launch of its first satellite into space.


Suborbital Flights Stopped Being So Humdrum in 2018

Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo’s first flight above 50 miles on Dec. 13, 2018. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

Part 1 of 2

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Throughout the Space Age, suborbital flight has been the least exciting segment of the launch market. Operating in the shadow of their much larger orbital cousins, sounding rockets carrying scientific instruments, microgravity experiments and technology demonstrations have flown to the fringes of space with little fanfare or media attention.

The suborbital sector has become much more dynamic in recent years now that billionaires have started spending money in it. Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic both made significant progress last year in testing New Shepard and SpaceShipTwo, respectively. Their achievements have raised the real possibility of suborbital space tourism flights in 2019. (I know. Promises, promises…. But, this year they might finally really do it. I think.)


Updates on JAXA’s Hayabusa2 Mission to Asteroid Ryugu

Figure 2: Image of the surface of Ryugu captured with the ONC-W1 at an altitude of about 47m. The image was taken on October 15, 2018 at 22:45 JST. The red circle indicates the candidate point for touchdown, L08-B. (Credit: JAXA, University of Tokyo, Kochi University, Rikkyo University, Nagoya University, Chiba Institute of Technology, Meiji University, University of Aizu, AIST)

Hayabusa2 Status (2019.1.1 – 6)
Jan. 10, 2019

Our first Hayabusa2 operation of the year was carried out on 1/4. Based on observational data collected during the solar conjunction, we had recalculated the orbit of Ryugu. This recalculated orbit was used after returning from solar conjunction to resume the home position at an altitude of 20km above the asteroid surface. We were able to confirm that using this new orbit allows us to more stably maintain the home position.

Hayabusa2 status (2018.12.24 – 31)
Jan. 04, 2019

This week, Hayabusa2 returned perfectly from solar conjunction to hover back at the home position at 20km from the asteroid. Although this situation was similar to when we approached the asteroid in June, it was a tense operation as there was no room for mistakes.

However, the spacecraft was able to return to its orbit exactly as planned. New Year’s Eve on the 31st December was the last operation of the year. The distance to the asteroid could be measured once again with LIDAR and we returned to normal operations without any problems. The beginning of the New Year is a holiday in Japan, but full-scale operations will begin with adjustments for the 2019 touchdown operation.

Japan’s AKARI Space Telescope Detects Water in a Number of Asteroids

Figure 1: An artist’s illustration of the near-infrared spectroscopic observation of asteroids with the infrared satellite AKARI. By using a space-borne telescope, the team was able to successfully detect the presence of water in many asteroids.

TOKYO (JAXA PR) — Using the infrared satellite AKARI, a Japanese research team has detected the existence of water in the form of hydrated minerals in a number of asteroids for the first time. This discovery will contribute to our understanding of the distribution of water in our solar system, the evolution of asteroids, and the origin of water on Earth.


International Space Station Construction Began 20 Years Ago

Left: Launch of the Zarya Functional Cargo Block from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. Right: Launch of Space Shuttle Endeavour from the Kennedy Space Center on the STS-88 mission to deliver the Unity Node 1 module. (Credit: NASA, Roscosmos)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — The largest and most complex international construction project in space began on the steppes of Kazakhstan 20 years ago today. Atop its Proton rocket, on Nov. 20, 1998, the Zarya Functional Cargo Block (FGB) thundered off its launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome into cold wintry skies. Zarya was built by the Khrunichev in Moscow and served as a temporary control module for the nascent ISS.


Hayabusa2 Rehearses Landings on Asteroid Ryugu

Figure 2: Image of the surface of Ryugu captured with the ONC-W1 at an altitude of about 47m. The image was taken on October 15, 2018 at 22:45 JST. The red circle indicates the candidate point for touchdown, L08-B. (Credit: JAXA, University of Tokyo, Kochi University, Rikkyo University, Nagoya University, Chiba Institute of Technology, Meiji University, University of Aizu, AIST)

Japan’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft spent the last several weeks rehearsing for a landing on asteroid Ryugu scheduled for early next year. JAXA’s status reports for the last three weeks are reproduced below.


JAXA Returns Capsule With ISS Experiments Aboard

HTV Small Re-entry Capsule (Credit: JAXA)

JAXA has successfully recovered a capsule with experiments aboard from the International Space Station (ISS) for the first time.

The HTV Small Re-entry Capsule (HSRC) splashed down in the ocean under a parachute near the island of Minamitorishima. The experimental capsule separated from the HTV-7 (Kounotori) resupply ship after the latter separated from ISS. Kounotori burned up in Earth’s atmosphere as planned.

Cross section image of HSRC (Credit: JAXA)

“Towards the goal to acquire Japan’s first cargo recovery capacity from the ISS, the Small Re-entry Capsule will be demonstrating its guided lift flight capabilities that will enable the capsule to descent under reduced G-forces, as well as its heat protection capability of the ablator while its re-entry into the atmosphere,” JAXA President Hiroshi Yamakawa said in a press release. “We expect that these efforts will lead to securing flexibility in our future space flight activities.”

HRSC provides another way to return experiments from the space station. SpaceX’s Dragon resupply ship is currently the only dedicated cargo vehicle that can return research. Russia’s crewed Soyuz vehicle has limited space available for experiments when there are three astronauts aboard.

HTV-7 carried approximately 6.2 metric tons of cargo to the space station. Supplies included new ISS batteries using Japanese Lithium-Ion batteries, large experiment racks provided by NASA and ESA,  three CubeSats and fresh food.

Hayabusa2 Completes Asteroid Ryugu Landing Rehearsals

TOKYO (JAXA PR) — During the second touchdown rehearsal (TD1-R1-A), we captured a sequential set of images as the spacecraft reached the point of lowest altitude and then began to rise. The spacecraft reached the lowest altitude of 22.3m above the surface of Ryugu on October 15, 2018 at 22:44 JST. [Editor’s Note: Hayabusa2 has completed three landing rehearsals.]

The most promising candidate site for touchdown is L08-B and is also captured in these images (Figure 2). As you can see in Figure 2 and Figure 1, there are not any large boulders in L08-B, but there is a big cliff-like boulder in the upper right of Figure 2 so care is still needed.

Figure 2: Image of the surface of Ryugu captured with the ONC-W1 at an altitude of about 47m. The image was taken on October 15, 2018 at 22:45 JST. The red circle indicates the candidate point for touchdown, L08-B. (Credit: JAXA, University of Tokyo, Kochi University, Rikkyo University, Nagoya University, Chiba Institute of Technology, Meiji University, University of Aizu, AIST)

In the future, these images obtained during the rehearsals will be analyzed in more detail to aim for a safe touchdown.

Figure 3: Enlargement of the shadow of the spacecraft. (Credit: JAXA, University of Tokyo, Kochi University, Rikkyo University, Nagoya University, Chiba Institute of Technology, Meiji University, University of Aizu, AIST)

If you enlarge the shadow of the probe shown in Figure 2, you will see the following figure. The gap between the panels of the solar paddle is easily visible, as is the shape of the spacecraft and the two star trackers.

BepiColombo Blasts Off to Explore the Mysteries of Mercury

BepiColombo liftoff (Credit: ESA-CNES-Arianespace)

KOUROU, French Guiana, 20 October 2018 (ESA PR) — The ESA-JAXA BepiColombo mission to Mercury blasted off on an Ariane 5 from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou at 01:45:28 GMT on 20 October on its exciting mission to study the mysteries of the Solar System’s innermost planet.

Signals from the spacecraft, received at ESA’s control centre in Darmstadt, Germany, via the New Norcia ground tracking station at 02:21 GMT confirmed that the launch was successful.


Video: An Overview of the BepiColumbo Mission to Mercury

Video Caption: BepiColombo is scheduled for launch at 01:45 GMT (03:45 CEST) on 20 October on an Ariane 5 from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou.

Final assembly of the two orbiters and transfer module has taken place, ready for the spacecraft to be integrated into its Ariane 5 launcher.

BepiColombo is Europe’s first mission to Mercury, the smallest and least explored planet in the inner Solar System. It is a joint endeavour between ESA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, JAXA, and consists of two scientific orbiters: ESA’s Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO) and JAXA’s Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO).

The mission will study all aspects of Mercury, from the structure and dynamics of its magnetosphere and how it interacts with the solar wind, to its internal structure with its large iron core, and the origin of the planet’s magnetic field.