Feeds

Hayabusa probe to limp back to Earth

Ion engines might enable homecoming

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

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.

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
Renewable energy 'simply WON'T WORK': Top Google engineers
Windmills, solar, tidal - all a 'false hope', say Stanford PhDs
FORGET the CLIMATE: FATTIES are a MUCH BIGGER problem - study
Fat guy? Drink or smoke? You're worse than a TERRORIST
SEX BEAST SEALS may be egging each other on to ATTACK PENGUINS
Boffin: 'I think the behaviour is increasing in frequency'
HUMAN DNA 'will be FOUND ON MOON' – rockin' boffin Brian Cox
Crowdfund plan to stimulate Blighty's space programme
Post-pub nosh neckfiller: The MIGHTY Scotch egg
Off to the boozer? This delicacy might help mitigate the effects
I'M SO SORRY, sobs Rosetta Brit boffin in 'sexist' sexy shirt storm
'He is just being himself' says proud mum of larger-than-life physicist
NASA launches new climate model at SC14
75 days of supercomputing later ...
Britain's HUMAN DNA-strewing Moon mission rakes in £200k
3 days, and Kickstarter moves lander 37% nearer takeoff
prev story

Whitepapers

Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Business security measures using SSL
Examines the major types of threats to information security that businesses face today and the techniques for mitigating those threats.
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.