Hayabusa Sample Return Capsule Retrieved


Scientists from Japan were given the go-ahead to retrieve the sample return capsule from the Hayabusa spacecraft, which is hoped to contain the first piece of asteroid ever brought to Earth, perhaps providing insight into the origins of asteroids – and our universe. The capsule was ejected three hours before reaching Earth, and the sample canister descended through Earth’s atmosphere, preceding the spacecraft which broke up in spectacular fashion (click here to see the video) over the Australian Outback. The capsule lay in the Woomera Prohibited Area until morning when Aboriginal elders deemed it had not landed in any indigenous sacred sites, giving the OK for the scientists to retrieve it.

The insulated and cushioned re-entry capsule, 40 cm in diameter and 25 cm deep has a mass of about 20 kg. The capsule had a convex nose covered with a 3 cm thick ablative heat shield to protect the samples from the high velocity (~13 km/s) re-entry.

Apparently, it landed right on target. The director of the Woomera test range, Doug Gerrie, said the probe had completed a textbook landing in the South Australian desert. “They landed it exactly where they nominated they would.

Hayabusa's heat shield was also recovered from the Australian outback. Credit: JAXA

The capsule will remain sealed until it arrives at the JAXA facility near Tokyo, and may remain unopened for weeks as it undergoes testing.

The mission launched in 2003, and endured a series of technical glitches over its five-billion-kilometer (three-billion-mile) journey to the asteroid Itokawa and back. A large solar flare in late 2003 “injured” the solar panels, providing less power to Hayabusa’s ion engines, delaying the rendezvous with the asteroid. Then, as the spacecraft approached Itokawa, Hayabusa lost the use of its Y-axis reaction wheel. While it flew near the asteroid and sent back data, scientists and engineers aren’t sure if the spacecraft was successful in obtaining samples, as while it appears Hayabusa landed briefly, it is not certain the “bullets” fired to stir up dust for the container to capture. The return to Earth was delayed by three years from more thruster and navigational failures, but the JAXA team nursed and coaxed the spacecraft back home to a spectacular return. There was concern that the parachute batteries may be been depleted due to the extra time it took to get back to Earth, but obviously they worked quite well.

Sources: JAXA, NASA, AFP

17 Replies to “Hayabusa Sample Return Capsule Retrieved”

  1. Nice to have a trouble-ridden trip end with the good news of a good landing! Now someone go shake the dang thing so we can see if we hit paydirt! 🙂

  2. Personally I think it’s a BIG leap from saying we can perhaps understand the origin of the asteroids to understanding the origin of the universe by studying a relatively tiny piece of rock retrieved from an asteroid.

  3. If anyone is wondering why the Woomera Area is Prohibited. Yes the Aussie military drop bombs there. But its most famous for British Nuclear testing in the late 50s.


    Jaxa as well as Nasa have both used this area to test rockets and technologies. Its an area roughly the size of Great Britain.

    Also sports some of the best desert satellite landscapes on Google earth.


  4. @Paul Eaton-Jones: Not as big a leap as thinking we can understand it all by staring at it with telescopes.

  5. @Paul Eaton-Jones: Not as big a leap as thinking we can understand it all by staring at it with telescopes only.

  6. Congratulations to JAXA on the completion of an oft worrisome mission~ Good job you guys! Am eagerly anticipating results.. hope it worked!

  7. Oops… “…of an oft TIMES worrisome mission…” Dzzz, a congratulatory beer finagled my fingerszuh?

  8. ummm… Am I the only reader to find Hans-Peter Dollhopf’s comment above to be racially offensive?? And therefore TOTALLY unacceptable and in violation of Universe Today’s commenting policy…

    Perhaps people are unfamiliar with Australian vernacular and terms of racial abuse but the word Dollhopf uses to refer to Aboriginal elders is our local version of what you might politely call the ‘N’ word (although it is never recontextualised for positive use.) Google is sure to ellucidate if you need further convincing.

    Sorry moderators, I tried to bring this to your attention via info at universetoday but perhaps that was not an effective way to report an offensive post.

    To me as an Australian Dollhopf’s comment reads as nothing more than racist snark and really spoils what is in fact a good news story on one of my favourite websites.

    JAXA and Australian Aboriginal elders and everyone else involved have done the right thing and collaborated ‘in peace and for all mankind’ to further our knowledge of the makeup of our solar system and indeed this universe we inhabit… congratulations!

    There is actually a history in this country of scientific business being conducted in the Woomera and surrounding regions in a less respectful and frankly less civilised manner and that’s saying things lightly (I mean if you’re gonna set off nuclear weapons or park your spaceship in someone’s backyard the least you could do is ask permission… no?) So this story is about progress culturally as well as scientifically and as an Australian I for one am proud to be a tiny part of that.

  9. I should add that I recognise this may be a simple case of cultural misunderstanding and Hans-Peter you may have no intention of causing offence 🙂

  10. I must admit michaelp and Universe Today, as a fellow Australian, Dollhopf’s comment was as jarring as a punch to the head. In fact, I would say a lot of Australian’s reading this article and comments, either purposely or casually, will likewise find the comment confronting.

  11. Dear Ausis! Thank you for not interfering too much with anti-atheistic concerns.

  12. Before I clean up my bookmarks I should make a screenshot to have a nice example for blindness for further use.

    as one can see from your appealing comment, you prefer the mob behind you

  13. Well it’s a thorny issue, a particular word (now removed from the comments) shocked and offended me and FYI will not go down well with Australian readers…

    The athiest perspective? Interesting but just remember this is an attempted sample return and wherever on the globe JAXA had landed Hayabusa one would expect them to speak to the locals (what’s that you say about space diseases kcucC? 🙂 ). The fact it happened at Woomera just adds to the cool factor for me!

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