Feeds

Hayabusa in fiery return to Earth

Asteroid sample pod lands in Oz outback

Intelligent flash storage arrays

Japan's Hayabusa spacecraft last night ended its seven-year mission to asteroid Itokawa, burning up over the South Australian outback after releasing the sample return cannister, which survived the re-entry into Earth's atmosphere.

Hayabusa's re-entry into Earth's atmosphere. Pic: NASAAirborne Australian, Japanese and NASA boffins were on hand to capture the action from a specially equipped Douglas DC-8, and recorded the spectacular death of Hayabusa. The basketball-sized sample pod, protected by carbon heat shields, is the small dot on the right of the photo.

Australian National University scientist Trevor Ireland, who caught the spectacle from the outback opal mining town of Coober Pedy, described the burn-up as resembling a meteor. He enthused: "It looked just like that in terms of fragmentation and pieces flying off it and glowing, it was just absolutely amazing."

The pod parachuted down into the Woomera Prohibited Area and was located by its onboard radio beacon. Scientists will this morning recover it and seal it in an airtight container for return to Tokyo, where the Japanese space agency (JAXA) will find out if there's any Itokawa inside.

Itokawa asteroidThat's by no means certain, since the Hayabusa mission was beset by technical problems. The spacecraft touched down on Itokawa (pictured) in November 2005 at a distance of 186 million miles (300 million km) from Earth. It was supposed to fire ball bearings into the surface and collect the resulting dust, although it's not clear whether that actually happened.

Chemical thruster woes then almost consigned Hayabusa to a lonely deep-space death, until JAXA managed to use two functioning ion engines to get the craft back on track for a belated return to its planet of origin.

If the cupboard proves to be bare, the mission has nonetheless proved enlightening. Hayabusa surprisingly showed that 535-metre Itokawa is not a solid body, but rather a lump of rubble probably made up of debris from an earlier asteroid collision. ®

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

More from The Register

next story
SECRET U.S. 'SPACE WARPLANE' set to return from SPY MISSION
Robot minishuttle X-37B returns after almost 2 years in orbit
LOHAN crash lands on CNN
Overflies Die Welt en route to lively US news vid
No sail: NASA spikes Sunjammer
'Solar sail' demonstrator project binned
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
You can crunch it all you like, but the answer is NOT always in the data
Hear that, 'data journalists'? Our analytics prof holds forth
Carry On Cosmonaut: Willful Child is a poor taste Star Trek parody
Cringeworthy, crude and crass jokes abound in Steven Erikson’s sci-fi debut
Origins of SEXUAL INTERCOURSE fished out of SCOTTISH LAKE
Fossil find proves it first happened 385 million years ago
America's super-secret X-37B plane returns to Earth after nearly TWO YEARS aloft
674 days in space for US Air Force's mystery orbital vehicle
prev story

Whitepapers

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.
Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
Win a year’s supply of chocolate
There is no techie angle to this competition so we're not going to pretend there is, but everyone loves chocolate so who cares.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.