All About Hayabusa (The Spacecraft, Not The Halo Armor)

Geek Culture

Hayabusa (image: public domain)Hayabusa (image: public domain)

Hayabusa (image: public domain)

I know my kids get tired of me tilting my head out from behind my laptop screen and proclaiming the next great achievement from the space realms: “Hey kids, Hayabusa is on its way back!”. This time however, their little faces actually turned toward me and smiled: “Hayabusa? Are you talking about Halo?”.


Hayabusa is also the name of a Japanese spacecraft launched in 2003. Its mission was to rendezvous with asteroid 25143 Itokawa, land (sort of), collect small rock and dust samples, take off, and return to our home planet. If all goes well, the little robot will fall back to Earth in June 2010 and become the first Earth vehicle to visit an asteroid and return samples successfully!

The mission hit a few roadblocks along the way and the JAXA scientists are not sure if the bot was able to capture much material during its visit to Itokawa. However, due to some big-brain thinking and some on the fly engineering, the Hayabusa team says everything is on track for next June. While much of the spacecraft will burn up as it falls through the Earth’s atmosphere, the precious asteroid dust will be protected in a re-entry proof capsule as it crashes into the Australian outback.

Another great tech achievement for Hayabusa is the use of ion engines. Initially put through its paces with NASA’s Deep Space 1 in 1998, the ion engines is becoming more popular as the primary means of thrust for space missions. For long term trips where time to arrival is not a major issue, the slight thrust of small ion engines are truly efficient compared to the amount of propellant required.

So to our Australian readers, keep your eyes peeled for a burning hunk of metal as it blazes across your skies in six months or so. While not quite extraterrestrial, the package that comes with it will truly be from out of this world!

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