Minerva mini-landerDuring its initial descent to the surface in November 2005 (see below), Hayabusa deployed a coffee-can-sized mini-lander named Minerva, which weighs a mere 519 grams. Taking advantage of the very low gravity at Itokawa, this solar-powered, box-shaped vehicle was intended to hop along the surface of the asteroid, relaying images from its cameras to Hayabusa whenever the two spacecraft were in sight of each other. Minerva was intended to become the first successful "space hopper".
Sample collection and return
After a few months exploring Itokawa, the spacecraft was meant to fire its engines to begin its cruise back to Earth. In the final phase of the mission, the reentry capsule is intended to be detached from the main spacecraft at a distance of 300,000 to 400,000 km from the Earth and then coast on a ballistic trajectory, reentering the Earth's atmosphere in July 2007. All being well, the capsule and its tiny cargo was to have landed via parachute near Woomera, Australia.
Latest newsMar. 8, 2006: Contact with Hayabusa, which had been lost in December 2005, is restored. Uncertainty remains, however, over whether the probe will be able to return to Earth and whether it captured samples of the asteroid as intended.
Sep. 13, 2005: Hayabusa successfully approached to within 20 km (12 miles) of Itokawa to begin the initial observing phase. (See entry on Itokawa for photos of the asteroid).
Related entry comet and asteroid missions
Related categories JAPANESE SPACECRAFT
SATELLITES AND SPACE PROBES
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