The Little Spacecraft That Could: Hayabusa - SpacePod 2010.06.22

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Last week JAXA had a huge success in safely landing its Hayabusa craft in Australia. But before we go in to...
Last week JAXA had a huge success in safely landing its Hayabusa craft in Australia. But before we go in to that, lets back up and talk a bit about what Hayabusa is and how we got to this point.On May 9th, 2003 at 4:23 UTC the Japanese solid fueled rocket M-5 launched from the Uchinoura Space Center. Aboard was a little spacecraft designed to do something no other vehicle had done before. It would approach an asteroid, hover, take a sample and return the sample safely to Earth. Hayabusa would not land but rather touch the surface with its sample capturing device and then move away, so we're not to call it a lander.Four ion engines kept the petal to the metal for 2 years straight and in 2005 the craft rendezvoused with the asteroid Itokawa. That asteriod was actually not its initial target. Originally Hayabusa was supposed to land on the asteroid 4660 Nereus, but a faulty M-5 rocket forced a delay which pushed the asteroid out of our reach. But that's not where the trouble started or ended.Even prior to the launch there were some problems. The non-lander was to deploy a small rover designed by NASA and developed by JPL on to the surface of the asteroid, but was cancelled due to budget reasons. Minus 2 points US. Then in 2002 JAXA needed to re-check the O-rings of their rocket as it was found to be made of a different material than was specified, and thus the launch was pushed the launch back to 2003. Finally after it did take off the Hayabusa spacecraft got slammed with a large solar flare which in turn damaged the solar cells and greatly reduced their efficiency. This impacted the ion engines performance and delayed the arrival of the craft from June to September of 2005.Finally Hayabusa makes it to the asteroid and begins it scientific work. The first thing our little spacecraft does is survey the asteroid from a distance of about 20 kilometers. Once it was satisfied with its sample site it would move closer and finally swoop in for a series of soft landings and a collection of samples. Originally there were to be two sample sites, but when the second site was found to be too rocky, it was reduced to one. There was also supposed to be the release of a MINERVA miniprobe to take pictures of the surface and beam them back to the spacecraft. While the probe was released, it was done too high and the gravity of the asteroid was not enough to pull it is. The miniprobe is now forever lost in space. ;And to sum up some more issues, a loss of signal and some confusion in the control room led to the non-lander turning in to a full fledged lander when Hayabusa actually touched down and stayed on the surface of the asteroid for 30 minutes. Then there was an issue with the reaction control system then a problem with controlling the Z-axis of the vehicle. Follow that up with a sudden altitude change and a loss of signal from the spacecraft followed by... well... a lot of silence. Finally communication was restored and it was time for Hayabusa to come come.At this point was have a fairly crippled vehicle. Only 2 of the 4 ion engines are running, power is damaged, we have issues with communication and control. Nevertheless on Jun 13th, 2010 at