Posted by Emily Lakdawalla
01-06-2008 23:48 CDT
JAXA has posted a note on their website on the status of Hayabusa, which apparently reached aphelion in late May. Hayabusa is Japan's amazing ion-powered mission to asteroid Itokawa, which touched down on Itokawa to grab a sample in mid-November 2005, but suffered an injury that has left in doubt its ability to return the sample capsule to Earth. It's also not known whether the capsule actually contains a sample.
Aphelion is an important date for a solar-powered spacecraft, the date of lowest power. But the report seems to indicate that Hayabusa is currently okay, in regular communication with Earth because Earth is located near the Sun (to Hayabusa) and thus they can maintain both Earth pointing for radio communications and Sun pointing for solar power simultaneously. "As a result the continuous communication is established and will be kept by [until?] next March." The report goes on to say that "the Hayabusa operation team on the ground has just started to prepare for the capsule retrieval." So, despite all Hayabusa's challenges, they are still talking about returning the capsule, which would happen some time in 2010.