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Emily LakdawallaAugust 26, 2005

Catching up with Hayabusa

Hayabusa (formerly known as MUSES-C) is getting very, very close to its target asteroid Itokawa, and should be arriving soon! Hayabusa, which means "falcon" in Japanese, is a daring mission design: it is going to land a little surface hopper on Itokawa, and will also return samples from the asteroid to Earth. If they succeed, it'll be the first sample return mission from an asteroid.

One of the oddest things about this mission is that although they'll spend a couple of months at Itokawa, they will not really be orbiting the asteroid. The asteroid is just too small for that, less than a kilometer in diameter. Instead, they're using ion engines basically to match their heliocentric orbit with Itokawa's. The relative speed between the two right now is only about 10 meters per second, and will decrease until it is nearly zero.

Yesterday, we got a message from Tasuku Iyori of The Planetary Society of Japan, updating us on the current plans for Hayabusa:

Hayabusa is already getting images of Itokawa. Here's a little animation from August 23 and 24, in which Itokawa can be seen to move with respect to the background stars. The images were taken from a distance of less than 10,000 kilometers.

The Planetary Society of Japan also has a recent update from Yasunori Matogawa, an Associate Executive Director at JAXA, about the recent status of Hayabusa. We'll be posting more updates on our website, too, so stay tuned!

Read more: mission status, Hayabusa (MUSES-C)

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Emily Lakdawalla

Senior Editor and Planetary Evangelist for The Planetary Society
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