Emily LakdawallaDec 03, 2014

Hayabusa2 launches toward asteroid rendezvous

Last night was an exciting one on Twitter as I watched with the rest of the world while Hayabusa2 and a fleet of mini-satellites launched on an H-IIA rocket. Here is an artist's concept:

Hayabusa2 launch
Hayabusa2 launch JAXA

(I love JAXA's cartoon depictions of their missions.)

Tanegashima is arguably the world's prettiest space center, made better by the awesome sight of the rocket arcing up into a cloudy sky, its solid rocket boosters separating cleanly just minutes after launch. Watch the replay here -- liftoff occurs at about 1:09:40:

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The broadcast includes rocketcam views of the solid boosters falling away at about 1:17:05. But right after that comes an amazing video that I don't recall seeing before: a camera mounted inside the fairing documents the splitting and separation of the rocket's nosecone, exposing Hayabusa2 to space for the first time. It was so great I had to clip it out of the broadcast and post it separately:

Hayabusa2 fairing separation Minutes after launch on December 3, 2014, a camera mounted to Hayabusa2's upper stage captured video of the fairing (the rocket's nosecone) splitting open, exposing Hayabusa2 to space for the first time. JAXA

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There was a cruise phase of about an hour and a half before a second firing of the second stage rocket would place Hayabusa2 onto an interplanetary trajectory. While this kind of launch-coast-boost plan is routine on NASA missions, JAXA has not done it before. They modified the second stage slightly, painting the usually orange surface with reflective white paint to prevent its stored liquid hydrogen from heating up during the coast. The second firing of the second stage happened as planned, and then we were treated to video of Hayabusa separating. The little semicircle of white dots are the five target markers, which Hayabusa 2 will use to help guide its descent to the surface of 1999 JU3.

Hayabusa2 spacecraft separation An hour and 47 minutes after launch, Hayabusa2 departs Earth for its journey to asteroid 1999 JU3, in a video recorded by a camera mounted to the second stage rocket. (The video lasts only 3 seconds, then is still for 5 seconds.) JAXA

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Since the launch, JAXA has posted two press releases, confirming that everything went according to plan. Here is the first, which also contains a timeline of the actual launch events:

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) successfully launched the H-IIA Launch Vehicle No. 26 (H-IIA F26) with the Asteroid Explorer “Hayabusa2” onboard at 1:22:04 p.m. on December 3, 2014 (Japan Standard Time, JST) from the Tanegashima Space Center. The launch vehicle flew as planned, and at approximately one hour, 47 minutes and 21 seconds after liftoff, the separation of the Hayabusa2 to earth-escape trajectory was confirmed.

The second release, confirms that Hayabusa2 is power-positive and that itss trajectory is correct:

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) received signals from the Asteroid Explorer "Hayabusa2" at 3:44 p.m. on December 3, 2014 (Japan Standard Time) at the NASA Goldstone Deep Space Communication Complex (in California) and confirmed that its initial sequence of operations including the solar array paddle deployment and sun acquisition control have been performed normally. The Hayabusa2 was launched on the H-IIA Launch Vehicle No. 26 from the Tanegashima Space Center at 1:22:04 p.m.on the same day (JST.) The explorer is also confirmed to be inserted into the scheduled orbit by the H-IIA F26. The explorer is now in a stable condition.

There were three mini-satellites onboard the same launch vehicle. ARTSAT has posted to its Facebook page that they are receiving telemetry. I don't currently have information on PROCYON or Shin-en deployments -- I'll keep looking and update this when I find it.

In the time between launch and departure, I whiled away the time on Twitter, enjoying the excitement about Hayabusa2. I particularly enjoy the way that enthusiasm for space exploration manifests itself in Japanese popular culture. Here are just a few of the great space-fan-produced creative responses to Hayabusa2 that I saw last night:

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