Thursday, 11 July 2013

Mission to Apollo

In July next year, the Japanese space agency JAXA will be launching a robotic space probe, Hayabusa-2, on a mission to the asteroid 1993 JU3. One of the Apollo group of asteroids, JU3 exists in an earth-crossing solar orbit. These are the scary asteroids - the meteorite that hit Chelyabinsk in Russia earlier this year is thought to have been an Apollo, the orbit of which intersected our own.

Hayabusa-2 is a follow-up to JAXA's previous Hayabusa mission, which reached asteroid Itokawa in 2005. There were some issues with that mission, but it made it back to Earth with valuable samples of the asteroid. Hayabusa is Japanese for 'peregrine falcon.' The new spacecraft has a number of improved systems, including an improved ion engine with greater durability, and a German-manufactured robotic lander named MASCOT (they make good robotic landers, the Germans do). Once it reaches JU3 in 2018, the probe will spend a year and a half collecting samples using small explosive devices, before turning tail and heading back to Earth. The use of explosives will allow the probe to reach new, deeper material than the first mission.

What's particularly cool about this mission is that JAXA are accepting submissions of messages to be carried to the asteroid on a data marker. If you visit this link you can submit your data to be included on the mission. You can either upload your name, which will be included on the data marker and left on the asteroid as a permanent record of the mission, or include a message to be returned with the probe on its onboard memory. You can even submit images and hand-written messages, or group data for schools and clubs. You can choose either option or both. I've sent my name to be included on the marker that will remain on JU3.

And you get a snazzy certificate to print off.

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