Ganbatte! Japan set to launch Hayabusa 2 on Dec 3
On Wednesday, Dec. 3, JAXA plans to start the new month off with the launch of their Hayabusa 2 spacecraft atop a H-IIA launch vehicle No. 26 out of Tanegashima Space Center, Tanegashima Island. The launch is currently scheduled to take place at 11:22 p.m. EST (1:22 p.m. JST) on Tuesday night (Wednesday afternoon in Japan). Hayabusa 2 will be Japan’s second spacecraft to visit an asteroid, collecting samples to return to Earth at the end of 2020.
Hayabusa 2 saw a brief delay on Friday, Nov. 29 when a freezing layer of clouds was predicted to form during the scheduled launch time on Sunday, Nov. 30 in Japan. A no-earlier-than (NET) date of Dec. 1 was established for fear of damage to the launch vehicle in flight due to the weather. An announcement was made later that evening confirming Dec. 1 as the new launch date. However, the launch date was again moved on late Saturday night due to more inclement weather in the region. JAXA held a go/no go meeting that day which concluded that strong winds, which exceeded the launch restrictions, were going to be present in the vicinity of the launch pad. Thus it was decided to postpone the launch again until Wednesday.
Final launch preparations are now being made on the island.
Its predecessor, Hayabusa (also known as MUSES-C/Mu Space Engineering Spacecraft C), was launched on May 9, 2003 and rendezvoused with the asteroid Itokawa in mid-Sept. of 2005.
Meaning “peregrine falcon” in Japanese, Hayabusa used ion engine with a new navigational system during its mission to determine the solar systems’ origins. It successfully returned to Earth on June 13 2010, making it the first spacecraft to land on an asteroid and deliver samples. In August of that same year, JAXA was given the go ahead to begin development on the second spacecraft.
According to JAXA, the space agency is building upon the original spacecraft’s success and have upgraded Hayabusa 2 to eliminate its predecessor’s weak points for this mission. It features two flat high-gain antennas (one X-band and one Ka-band) opposed to Hayabusa’s elongated antenna.
Dubbed the “Asteroid Explorer,” Hayabusa 2 will be targeting a C-type asteroid called “1999 JU3.” This specific asteroid is further out in the main asteroid belt than the S-type asteroid, Itokawa, which was sampled from previously. As such, the spacecraft hopes to deliver carbonaceous chondrites, opposed to the ordinary chondrites brought back by the original Hayabusa. Carbonaceous chondrites are the oldest types of rock pieces, consisting of organic, hydrated minerals that could help scientists unlock answers to our solar system’s origins.
At only 5.2 ft (1.6m) tall and weighing over 1,322 lbs (600 kg), it is only slightly smaller than NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft currently in development.
As with most JAXA launches, Hayabusa 2 will be launched out of Tanegashima Space Center on Tangashima Island, which is south of mainland Kyushu and southwest of Tokyo. The launch site, which is the southeastern part of the island, is one of the main bases of operation for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).
The 173 ft (53 m) tall H-IIA launch vehicle used for this particular mission is the workhorse of JAXA, having flown numerous missions since it first took to the skies in 2001. It is the successor to Japan’s H-II rocket which flew 5 successful missions between 1994 and 1999 and is qualified only for launch at the Yoshinobu Launch Complex (LA-Y) situated on Tangashima Island.
With a success rate of 95 percent, the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries-built rocket is as reliable as United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V and Arianespace’s Ariane 5 boosters.
To date it has launched geostationary satellites, lunar-orbiting spacecraft, and deep space probes. Monday will be the H-IIA’s 25th successful mission with plans to deliver additional payloads into 2015.
Shortly after launch, the liquid-fueled H-IIA Launch Vehicle No. 26 will cycle through the separation of its two stages before inserting Hayabusa 2 into space to begin its journey towards its destination. It will fly once around our Sun in an orbit similar to that of Earth’s, before passing our planet in Dec. 2015. It will then enter an orbit close to the 1999 JU3 asteroid, making two more trips around the Sun in this orbit before reaching the targeted asteroid.
When Hayabusa 2 arrives in 2018, the spacecraft will then spend the next 18 months making observations and collecting samples before departing for Earth once again. During its stay, it will make a another orbit around the Sun.
For the duration of its stay with 1999 JU3, Hayabusa 2 plans to deploy a series of small rovers and one lander to explore the surface. These rovers, called MINERVA-II together, are created from the original MINERVA craft that failed to deploy during the first Hayabusa mission. The rovers are broken into two capsules—MINERVA-II1, which contains Rover 1A and Rover1B as well as MINERVA-II2, which contains Rover 2. As they conduct a thorough search of the asteroid, the small fleet of rovers will “hop” along the surface.
Also on board to be deployed is the German and French-built lander, MASCOT (Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout). The small lander is a collaboration between the companies DLR (German Aerospace Center) and CNES (National Center for Space Studies) with the goal of conducting experiments on the asteroid’s surface using all four of its onboard observation devices.
After the duration of its mission is complete, Hayabusa 2 will make another almost complete pass around the Sun on its journey back to Earth. At the end of 2020, it will then deploy the onboard re-entry capsule containing all of the collected samples from 1999 JU3. Reentering the Earth’s atmosphere at about 7.5 mi/second (12km/second), the capsule will then be retrieved for analysis.
Hayabusa 2 follows in the footsteps of not only the first Hayabusa spacecraft, but also NASA’s Galileo and NEAR Shoemaker spacecraft, in the on-going mission to better understand near-earth asteroids and the effects they may have on our planet.
For those interested in watching live coverage of the launch, JAXA has provided a live streaming broadcast which will begin airing shortly before launch. Most launches broadcasts are also translated into English.
Viewers are also able to leave messages for the Hayabusa 2 spacecraft on the JAXA website or on Twitter using the hashtag #hayabusa2 in tweets.
Please check back with Spaceflight Insider for updates and post-launch coverage on Hayabusa 2.
Britt Rawcliffe is a professional freelance aerospace and aviation photographer based out of Pennsylvania with over six years of professional photographic experience. Her creative imagery has spanned into all areas relating to space, including launches, photojournalism, architecture, and portraiture. Britt’s passion for history has been a common thread in much of her work, including having photographed many Moonwalkers such as Buzz Aldrin and Gene Cernan.