Ryugu, like Bennu, appears to have rocks from other asteroids

Japanese scientists today announced that 21 rocks identified by Hayabusa-2 on the asteroid Ryugu have a composition that suggests they were formed on another asteroid.

Although Ryugu’s surface is uniformly dark [because it is a C-type asteroid], the scientists behind the new research found numerous boulders scattered across the asteroid that were 1.5 or more times brighter than their surroundings — that is, they reflected at least 50% more light than most of the rest of Ryugu. This contrast made the researchers suspect these boulders may have come from outside the asteroid.

By analyzing the spectrum of light reflected off 21 of these boulders, the scientists deduced they were made of minerals known as anhydrous silicates. Prior studies have suggested that such water-poor, silicon-rich rocks make up silicaceous or S-type asteroids, the most common kind of asteroid found in the inner main asteroid belt. The brightness of these boulders also matches the brightness of S-type asteroids.

This result compliments the result yesterday from scientists studying Bennu with OSIRIS-REx, and was in fact released at the same time. Both asteroids apparently contain material from other asteroids, suggesting that asteroids in their initial formation (as rubble piles) are routinely a mixture of material from many asteroids, thrown out during impacts and then recaptured.

Japan chooses Hayabusa-2’s next asteroid target

The new colonial movement: It appears that Japan has chosen the next asteroid that its probe Hayabusa-2 will visit in 2031, after it releases its samples to Earth in December from Ryugu.

Japan’s Hayabusa2 space explorer will aim to probe the asteroid “1998KY26” located between the orbits of Earth and Mars in 2031 after completing its current mission of collecting samples from another asteroid, the country’s science minister said Tuesday.

It is hoped Hayabusa2 will approach the ball-shaped asteroid, which has a diameter of around 30 meters and rotates about every 10 minutes, in July 2031, Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Minister Koichi Hagiuda said.

It will not obtain samples from this second asteroid, only observe it close up by camera.

Japan delays launch of new rocket one year

Capitalism in space: Because of a problem discovered in the development of its new first stage engine, Japan has now delayed the first launch of its new H3 rocket one year, to ’21.

Mitsubishi is building the rocket for Japan’s space agency JAXA, Since you design and build your rocket around your rocket engines, having a problem with that rocket engine puts a serious crimp on construction. Thus, identifying and dealing with such engine issues early in development is wise.

Still, Japan continues to lag behind the other space-faring nations in the development of its space industry.

Private Japanese lunar lander redesigned, flight delayed one year

Capitalism in space: The privately financed Japanese lunar landing company Ispace has redesigned its lander and delayed the first flight by one year, to 2022.

Since a preliminary design review in 2018, ispace has reduced the size of Hakuto-R. Previously 3.5 meters high and 4.4 meters wide with its landing legs deployed, the lander is now 2.3 meters high and 2.6 meters wide. The spacecraft’s mass has decreased from 1,400 to 1,050 kilograms, primarily by reducing the amount of propellant on board.

A smaller lander is less expensive to develop, said Ryo Ujiie, manager of the lander system engineering group at ispace, during a call with reporters July 30. It also reduces the size and complexity of the landing legs. The spacecraft will use a different trajectory to go to the moon, employing a low-energy transfer orbit that requires less propellant but takes roughly twice as long as previously planned. “We had to pick a more propellant-efficient orbit” given the reduction in propellant, said Chit Hong Yam, manager of the mission design and operations group. “We’re confident that, with enough checking, we should be able to execute this orbit.”

While the overall lander is smaller, it still maintains a payload capacity of 30 kilograms. Once on the surface, likely at one of several mid-latitude sites on the moon under consideration by ispace, it will operate for 12 days.

That first flight will launch on a Falcon 9. The company raised $95 million in private capital in 2017, and still plans a second lander launch in 2023.

After releasing its Ryugu samples Hayabusa-2’s mission will continue

Japan’s space agency JAXA has revealed that it is looking at two fast-spinning asteroids as possible destinations for its Hayabusa-2 spacecraft after it has dropped off its samples from the asteroid Ryugu on December 6.

The candidate asteroids on the agency’s list are asteroid 2001AV43 which Hayabusa2 would reach in November 2029 after flying by Venus, and asteroid 1998KY26 which the probe would reach in July 2031 after passing by another asteroid.

JAXA says both asteroids are rotating on their axis once every 10 minutes. The high-speed spinning indicates that the asteroids’ inner structures are likely different from that of asteroid Ryugu on the first mission, which consists of pieces of rocks.

The spacecraft will no longer have the equipment for returning additional samples, but everything else is functioning and it has the fuel.

UAE’s Hope Mars Orbiter successfully launched

The new colonial movement: The United Arab Emirates first interplanetary probe, its Hope Mars Orbiter, was successfully launched by a Mitsubishi H-2A rocket today from Japan, and is now on its way to Mars.

It will arrive in February 2021, when it will attempt to inject itself into orbit, where it will then be used to study the Martian weather.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

16 China
10 SpaceX
7 Russia
3 ULA
3 Japan

The U.S. still leads China in the national rankings, 17 to 16.

Privately-built Japanese smallsat successfully tests new technology

Capitalism in space: A privately-built Japanese smallsat has successfully tested seven new technologies on a six-month long mission that was launched in January on Japan’s newest low-cost Epsilon rocket.

For the first time, the Japanese space agency turned over development of one of its satellites to a startup. Axelspace Co. developed RAPIS-1 for the agency is a short time period, going from design to launch in only about two years, the agency said. The satellite bus features a standardized interface that made attaching instruments and equipment easier. The mission equipment and bus were independently designed to prevent failures of the former from affecting the latter, JAXA said.

The article at the link provides details about the technologies tested, all of which increase significantly the capabilities of smallsats to replace standard larger and heavier satellites.

Interstellar suborbital launch ends in failure

Capitalism in space: A suborbital launch attempt today by Interstellar, a private Japanese smallsat rocket company, failed one minute into flight, with the rocket falling into the sea.

It apparently failed at about 12 kilometers elevation, when it began tumbling. I have embedded the video of the launch below the fold, cued to just before liftoff.

This was their fifth launch attempt. Only the third launch reached their target altitude of 100 kilometers.
» Read more

Japan launches HTV cargo ship to ISS

Japan today successfully launched to ISS the last of its first generation HTV cargo ships.

This was the ninth such cargo ship launched by Japan. The mission was also the last launch of Mitsubishi’s H-2B rocket, Japan’s most powerful. It is being replaced with the H-3 rocket, which they hope to fly for the first time before the end of this year. They also hope that the H3 will be cheaper to operate, and will allow Mitsubishi to garner some commercial business with it, something they failed entirely to do with the H-2B.

This was also Japan’s second launch in 2020, which means they remain outside the leaders in the 2020 launch race:

8 China
6 SpaceX
6 Russia
3 ULA

The U.S. continues to lead China 11 to 8 in the national rankings.

Evidence suggests Ryugu was once closer to Sun

The uncertainty of science: Spectral data collected of the surface of Ryugu by Japan’s Hayabusa-2 probe suggests that the asteroid once spent a period of time much closer to the Sun.

The combined data show an oddly striated world. Ryugu’s equator and poles are tinged blue and are brighter compared with its darker, reddish mid-latitudes. These color differences wouldn’t be obvious to the human eye, although the brightness changes might be.

…As Tomokatsu Morota (University of Tokyo) and colleagues write in the May 8th Science, Ryugu’s boulders likely start bluish. Then a combination of solar wind exposure, meteoroid impacts, and solar heating reddens them. This redder stuff migrates to the asteroid’s mid-latitudes over time, because topographically those are the lowest on Ryugu’s surface. That movement leaves the higher equator and polar regions relatively bluer and brighter.

Based on this data, the scientists posit that Ryugu was closer to the Sun from 800,000 to 8 million years ago, and that the evidence also suggests that the asteroid is only at most 17 million years old.

To put it mildly, there are great uncertainties to these conclusions.

Japan tests new engine for new rocket

Capitalism in space: Mitsubishi has successfully tested the new engine it will use in the new rocket, the H3, that it is building for Japan’s space agency, JAXA.

JAXA reports that the engine fired for the planned duration of 240 seconds (4 minutes) at the space agency’s Tanegashima Space Center. It was the seventh hot fire of the new engine, which is powered by liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen.

JAXA plans H-3’s first test launch by the end of the nation’s 2020 fiscal year, which began on April 1 and will end on March 31, 2021. It is not known whether work slow downs resulting from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic will affect the schedule.

The two-stage H3 is intended to be a more affordable and flexible replacement for the H-IIA and H-IIB boosters now in use. The new rocket is designed to place payloads weighing 4,000 kg (8,818 lb) or more into sun-synchronous orbit at 500 km (310.7 miles) or 6,500 kg (14,330 lb) into geosynchronous transfer orbit.

I do wish JAXA or Mitsubishi would give this rocket a more interesting name. It would help their woeful marketing attempts to sell it to other customers.

Japan suspends funding to TMT

The Japanese government has confirmed that it has suspended payment of its annual contribution to the budget of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) because of the project’s inability to begin construction on Mauna Kea in Hawaii.

Japanese astronomers strongly prefer placing TMT on Mauna Kea because it is relatively close to Japan, unlike the proposed replacement site in the Grand Canary Islands in the Atlantic.

I would say this is the next nail in the coffin for TMT in Hawaii. The National Science Foundation (NSF) has money to fund construction of a big telescope for U.S. astronomers, but has not been able to decide on whether to give the money to TMT, or to the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT), already under construction in Chile, or to both.

Astronomers have been lobbying for dual funding, using the argument that the two telescopes are in the opposite north and south hemispheres. Moving TMT to the Grand Canaries, at a higher latitude than Hawaii, strengthens this argument. With the apparent exit of Japan it could be that the way is now cleared to give up on Hawaii and for TMT to make the move to a more welcoming site.

Hawaii’s protesters, supported by the state’s Democratically-controlled government, will of course celebrate. What they will be celebrating however will be the death-knell of science in Hawaii.

Japan to establish its own military space unit

Working in conjunction with the new U.S. Space Force, Japan now plans to establish its own defense-oriented space unit.

The space unit will be added to an existing air base at Fuchu in the western suburbs of Tokyo, where about 20 people will be staffed ahead of a full launch in 2022. The role of the space unit is to conduct satellite-based navigation and communications for other troops in the field, rather than being on the ground.

Abe’s Cabinet in December approved 50.6 billion yen (U.S. $459.2 million) budget in space-related projects, pending parliamentary approval. [emphasis mine]

The highlighted words indicate the unit’s purpose, to provide support from space for the operations of Japan’s allies. This makes sense, as Japan itself has no real army.

Animal life thriving in Fukushima radioactive zone

The uncertainty of science: Despite fears that the radioactivity released from the Fukushima nuclear accident would make life difficult if not impossible within the 80-mile radius exclusion zone surrounding the reactor, animals are thriving there, in large unexpected numbers.

Now, nearly a decade after the nuclear accident, the wildlife populations appear to be thriving. Animals are most abundant in areas still devoid of humans, with more than 20 species captured in the UGA’s camera study.

Particular species that often find themselves in conflict with humans, especially Fukushima’s wild boar, were most often photographed in human-evacuated areas. Without the threat of humankind, wildlife is flourishing. In the years since the nuclear accident, Japan’s wild boar seems to have taken over abandoned farmland — even moving into abandoned homes. The government hired boar hunters to cull the population prior to re-opening parts of the original exclusion zone in 2017.

This phenomenon has happened before. Life inside the Chernobyl exclusion zone in Ukraine became an accidental wildlife preserve after humans left following the nuclear disaster there in April 1986. [emphasis mine]

This story, and that of Chernobyl, does not prove that radioactivity is harmless. Not at all. What it shows is that we know diddly-squat about its effects on life. For example, one study has shown changes in the weight and size of one species of monkey at Fukushima has shrunk, but have flourished nonetheless.

Hayabusa-2 fires main ion engines for return to Earth

After spending two weeks testing its main ion engines just beyond the gravitational sphere of influence of the asteroid Ryugu, Japanese engineers today initiated full engine operation, beginning the spacecraft’s journey back to Earth.

Hayabusa-2 is expected to return to Earth space in December 2020, where it will release a small capsule containing the two samples it obtained of Ryugu will be released to land on Earth and be recovered. At that point, if Hayabusa-2 is still in good condition it will be available to send to other locations in the solar system.

Hayabusa-2 begins journey back to Earth

The Hayabusa-2 science team has fired up the spacecraft’s ion engine to leave the asteroid Ryugu and began its begins journey back to Earth.

It will take about six days to exit the gravitational sphere of influence of Ryugu. During that time period they will be continually releasing real time images of the asteroid from the spacecraft’s navigation camera, as it slowly gets farther away.

In mid-December they will fire the spacecraft’s main engines for an arrival near Earth in late 2020. At that point the small return capsule holding the samples from Ryugu will separate and land in the Australian desert. Hayabusa-2, still operational, might then be given a new subsequent mission.

Hayabusa-2 to begin return voyage on November 13

In a press conference today the science team for the asteroid probe Hayabusa-2 announced that the spacecraft will begin the first stage of its journey back to Earth tomorrow, using its ion engine to slowly pull away from Ryugu.

That first stage will take a little less than a week. Once the spacecraft gets about 25 miles from Ryugu it will leave its sphere of gravitational influence, when it will then begin its cruise phase back to Earth.

Mitsubishi offers its H3 rocket to Artemis

Earlier this week Japan announced that it planned to become a partner in NASA’s Artemis program to build a space station in lunar orbit.

That announcement was very vague. Yesterday an official from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries might have offered the first real detail, suggesting that its new H3 rocket, scheduled for its first lift-off in 2020, could be used to launch components for Artemis, as early as 2025. The official described one option for using the H3, sending Japan’s upgraded ISS cargo freighter, the HTV-X, to Gateway in 2025 or 2026.

Launching an HTV-X cargo vessel to the gateway would require two H3 launches, he said. The first launch would send an HTV-X into an orbit around the Earth, he said. The second launch would send up an upper stage with an enlarged fuel tank to dock with the HTV-X and propel it to the Gateway, he said.

What was not stated was who will pay for this. The U.S.? Japan? Either way Mitsubishi, which has failed badly in garnering any of the international commercial satellite business for its H2B rocket, is clearly trying to attract business now for the H3 rocket, supposedly designed to be cheaper to launch.

Three launches today, including launch of three astronauts and UAE’s first spaceman

Three launches today, by China, Japan, and Russia. China launched a Yunhai-1 weather satellite using its Long March 2D rocket. Japan in turn successfully launched, on its second attempt, its HTV cargo freighter to ISS. This was Japan’s second launch this year.

Finally, Russia has just successfully put three astronauts into orbit using its Soyuz rocket, including the first astronaut of the United Arab Emirates.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

18 China
15 Russia
10 SpaceX
6 Europe (Arianespace)

The U.S. lead over China in the national rankings is now 19 to 18.

Mitsubishi IDs cause of launchpad fire, reschedules launch

Mitsubishi, the Japanese company that builds the H-2B rocket for Japan’s space agency JAXA, has identified the cause of the dramatic launchpad fire that broke out only about three hours before the launch of their HTV unmanned ISS cargo freighter.

MHI announced Friday that officials believe the fire started near an “exit hole” on the mobile launch platform. Investigators believe the blaze was most likely caused by static electricity, and exacerbated by a flammable oxygen-rich environment inside the mobile launch platform.

Low winds at Tanegashima during the Sept. 10 countdown allowed oxygen vapors to build up at the launch pad in higher concentrations than previous countdowns, officials said. Super-cold oxygen is used as an oxidizer in both stages of the H-2B rocket, and also flows through the first stage’s twin LE-7A main engines during pre-launch “chilldown” conditioning procedures.

“As a result of the investigation, it was confirmed that there was a high possibility that the fire spread due to the static electricity generated by the oxygen dripping from the engine exhaust port during the propellant filling operation, which continued to blow on the heat-resistant material in the exit hole at the movable launch pad,” MHI said in a statement. “We have taken corrective measures and have confirmed normal functioning of the rocket and facility,” MHI said.

They have rescheduled the launch for September 26. Initially they were aiming for September 24, but rescheduled because there might be an orbital conflict between their rocket’s second stage and the launch of a Soyuz to ISS that same day.

Hayabusa-2 completes rehearsal for MINERVA-II drop

Hayabusa-2 has successfully completed its rehearsal for its planned drop of its last MINERVA-II bouncer/rover, releasing two reflective targets in order to track how they spiral down to the surface of Ryugu.

Hayabusa 2’s cameras will track the movement of the two navigation aids as they fly in space around Ryugu over the next several days. Scientists expect Ryugu’s tenuous gravity will pull the target markers to the asteroid’s surface within a week.

The release of that last bouncer is now expected in about a month. After spending time obtaining the data from that drop, Hayabusa-2 will then head back to Earth by the end of the year.

Hayabusa-2 dropping orbiting target marker

In preparation for the release and landing of Hayabusa-2’s second MINERVA-II2 tiny rover/bouncer, the spacecraft today began a close-approach to the asteroid Ryugu, where it will release two target markers.

Once released, Hayabusa-2 will back off to observe these markers as they spiral down into Ryugu, landing sometime around September 23.

This operation is a rehearsal for the release and landing of MINERVA-II2, which like the first two bouncers back in September 2018 will bounce along the asteroid’s surface, taking pictures and gathering data.

Video of the Japanese launchpad fire

I have embedded below the fold the video of the launchpad fire on September 10 that forced Japan to scrub the launch of its H-2B rocket carrying its HTV unmanned cargo freighter to ISS.

I set up the video to start just prior to the appearance of the fire, at 10 minutes in. Its appearance is quite dramatic. The video then continues for about twenty more minutes, showing the fire-fighting effort that brings the fire under control.

Japan’s space agency JAXA has still not released any further information about what caused the fire, the damage, or when they might reschedule the launch.
» Read more

Japan scrubs launch due to launchpad fire

Japan today scrubbed the launch of its unmanned HTV cargo freighter to ISS due to a launchpad fire that broke out only three and half hours before liftoff.

There is as yet no word on the cause of the fire, or how much damage it caused. Nor have they said anything about rescheduling the launch.

This would have been Japan’s second launch in 2019, a drop from the average of 4 to 6 in the last five years.

Hayabusa-2 in safe mode for one day on August 29

Japan’s Hayabusa-2 space probe automatically entered safe mode for one day on August 29, causing engineers to postpone a planned operation set for Sept 5.

Hayabusa2 is equipped with four reaction wheels that are used to control the posture of the spacecraft, and posture control is usually performed using three of these reaction wheels. On August 29, the back-up reaction wheel that has not been used since October last year was tested, and an abnormal value (an increased torque) as detected. The spacecraft therefore autonomously moved into the Safe-Hold state. Details of the cause of the abnormal torque value are currently under investigation. On August 30, restoration steps were taken and the spacecraft returned to normal. However, as the spacecraft moved away from the home position due to entering Safe-Hold, we are currently having to return to the home position. We will return to the home position this weekend.

The attitude of the spacecraft is controlled by three reaction wheels as before. Entering the Safe-Hold state is one of the functions employed to keep the spacecraft safe, which means that procedures have worked normally.

In this case it is very clear that this event actually demonstrated that the spacecraft’s systems are operating properly to prevent it from becoming lost. However, the event also underlined the urgency of getting its samples from the asteroid Ryugu back to Earth.

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