Friday, December 4, 2015

Japan Asteroid Probe Hayabusa 2 Flies by Earth

At 02:34 GMT on 26 November 2015, the Earth and the Moon were imaged with the Thermal Infrared Imager on the Hayabusa-2 asteroid explorer, as it was approaching Earth for a gravity-assist flyby to line up its trajectory to asteroid Ryugu. The image was taken at a distance of 3 million kilometers from Earth. Credit: JAXA

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) performed an Earth swing-by operation of the Asteroid Explorer Hayabusa 2 on the night of Dec. 3, 2015 (Japan Standard Time). The Hayabusa 2 flew closest to the Earth at 7:08 p.m. (JST) and passed over the Pacific Ocean around the Hawaii islands at an altitude of about 3,090 km. The probe, launched last year, passed by Earth to harness the planet's gravitational pull to propel it toward a far away asteroid in its quest to study the origin of the solar system.

"After its closest flight to the Earth, we have confirmed the good health of the Hayabusa 2 through operations supported by the NASA Deep Space Network stations," JAXA said in a statement. "The Hayabusa 2 project team is currently measuring and calculating the post-swing-by orbit. It will take about a week to confirm if the explorer entered the target orbit. We will report the result once it is determined."

The space agency will now spend about a week analyzing whether the probe has gone into the correct orbit, according to local media, including the Mainichi Shimbun daily.

Hayabusa 2 was launched a year ago aboard Japan's main H-IIA rocket from Tanegashima Space Center for its six-year mission to bring back mineral samples from the asteroid.

It is expected to reach Ryugu, named after a mythical castle in a Japanese folk tale, in mid-2018 and spend around 18 months in the area.

It will also drop rover robots and a "landing package" that includes equipment for surface observation.

If all goes well, soil samples will be returned to Earth in late 2020.


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