Emily LakdawallaAug 03, 2018

A second successful medium-altitude operation for Hayabusa2

For the second time, JAXA navigators have zoomed their cameras and other instruments in on asteroid Ryugu. The August 1 operation was quicker than the first, taking only 26 hours to descend, do science, and ascend.

The spacecraft ordinarily maintains a position at a "home" distance of 20 kilometers away from Ryugu, stationkeeping at a spot between Earth and the asteroid. For its first "medium altitude" scientific surveys, it takes excursions down to a distance of 5 kilometers. Its first such operation happened from July 17 to July 25 (spending July 20 in proximity to the asteroid).

The Hayabusa2 team live-tweeted the operation in both Japanese and English, sharing a sequence of images from the spacecraft's wide-angle camera throughout. Here, I've assembled the images into an animation:

Hayabusa2 wide-angle views of a descent toward Ryugu, 1 August 2018
Hayabusa2 wide-angle views of a descent toward Ryugu, 1 August 2018 The Hayabusa2 team posted these wide-angle views of Ryugu to Twitter during a 26-hour round trip from "home" position at 20 kilometers above the asteroid to "medium altitude" position of 5 kilometers above the asteroid. Eleven of the images were taken during descent at the following times (all UTC) 31 Jul 23:00; 1 Aug 01:00; 03:00; 05:00; 07:00; 09:00; 09:50; 10:20; 10:50; 11:15; and 13:30. Four images were taken from 5 kilometers away, on 1 August at 14:30; 17:30; 21:00; and 22:00. The final two were taken during ascent on 2 August at 00:00 and 02:00.Image: JAXA / Emily Lakdawalla

And here's a summary of the tweets throughout the descent.

Hayabusa2 began descending toward Ryugu at a speed of 40 centimeters per second at 01:38 UTC. At 09:00, JAXA's Usuda Deep Space Center handed over communications responsibilities to the Deep Space Network's ground station in Madrid. As of 11:32, Hayabusa2 had reached the target altitude of 5 kilometers, halting its descent. It still needed to maneuver slightly into its desired observation position.

At 14:00 UTC (23:00 Japan time), a shift change from the evening team to the late-night team. ""IES兄" (IES's Older Brother, in charge of the ion engine systems!) took over the live twitter feed to tell us about operations in the control room."

At 14:35, the spacecraft reached its targeted observation position, still 5 kilometers above the asteroid, and began its planned medium-altitude observation sequence. At 17:10, the Deep Space Network handed over support of Hayabusa2 to Goldstone.

Tweet: "While operating the ion engines, Ryugu was only a point, even when using the telephoto camera --explains IES兄-- the asteroid seems so big in the wide-angle camera now. From 2.9 billion km to 5km. If seems like you could touch it if you stretched out your hand."

Around 22:00 UTC August 1 (07:00 Japan time on August 2), another shift change replaced the late-night operations team with the "lunch team."

With the desired observations complete, at 22:30 the flight director commanded the spacecraft to return to home position. The spacecraft responded, with radio tracking indicating a "normal rise." The project manager declared the medium altitude operation a success, to applause in the control room. As of midnight UTC August 2, the spacecraft was rising at 20 centimeters per second.

Hayabusa2 returned to its "home" position at a hover, 20 kilometers above Ryugu, with Earth at its back, at 03:40 UTC on August 3.

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