Feeds

Hayabusa probe to limp back to Earth

Ion engines might enable homecoming

SANS - Survey on application security programs

Japanese scientists will next month attempt to guide the country's sickly Hayabusa probe back to Earth, New Scientist reports.

Itokawa asteroidHayabusa rendevouzed back in November 2005 with asteroid Itokawa - at a distance of 186 million miles (300 million km) from Earth - with a view to collecting the first-ever samples from the distant body. The plan was to blast pellets into the asteroid's surface and capture the resulting dust.

However, it appears the pellets were not fired "because the craft's onboard computer sent conflicting signals to its collection instruments". To add to the probe's woes, a fuel leak left its 12 chemical thrusters without juice, apparently dooming it to a lonely death in deep space.

In May 2006, however, Japanese space agency JAXA reestablished contact with Hayabusa and determined that it still carried its xenon gas payload which offered the possibility of using the four ion engines to guide the craft home.

Tests of two of the ion engines - which "ionise xenon gas and then use electric fields to accelerate the ions" - proved positive. A further test of a third ion engine will probably be unnecessary, New Scientist notes, because Hayabusa can limp home on just two. Mission manager Jun'ichiro Kawaguchi told the magazine: "As of today, [there are] no fatal problems to start the ion engines."

It's not quite that simple, though. Back at the end of 2005, the failed chemical thrusters were already "compensating for the earlier loss of two of three stabilising reaction wheels". Kawaguchi elaborated: "The spacecraft suffers from many problems and the single [stabilising] reaction wheel left onboard is the only device we can rely on for the ion engine operation. We are currently updating the onboard software to allow this configuration."

JAXA is looking to gently nudge Hayabusa back onto the right track at the end of March. ®

Bootnote

Whether or not Hayabusa ever gets back to Earth with or without asteroid samples, the mission did provide some interesting data.

Analysis of photos of 535-metre Itokawa, along with measurement of its gravitational field revealed it's nothing more than a highly-porous collection of rubble - possibly comprised of the debris of an earlier asteroid collision.

Top three mobile application threats

More from The Register

next story
Fancy joining Reg hack on quid-a-day challenge?
Recruiting now for charity starvation diet
Red-faced LOHAN team 'fesses up in blown SPEARS fuse fiasco
Standing in the corner, big pointy 'D' hats
KILLER SPONGES menacing California coastline
Surfers are safe, crustaceans less so
LOHAN's Punch and Judy show relaunches Thursday
Weather looking good for second pop at test flights
Discovery time for 200m WONDER MATERIALS shaved from 4 MILLENNIA... to 4 years
Alloy, Alloy: Boffins in speed-classification breakthrough
Curiosity finds not-very-Australian-shaped rock on Mars
File under 'messianic pastries' and move on, people
Elon Musk's LEAKY THRUSTER gas stalls Space Station supply run
Helium seeps from Falcon 9 first stage, delays new legs for NASA robonaut
Top Secret US payload launched into space successfully
Clandestine NRO spacecraft sets off on its unknown mission
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a defence for mobile apps
In this whitepaper learn the various considerations for defending mobile applications; from the mobile application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies needed to properly assess mobile applications risk.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.