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USU Physicists Record Re-entry of Japan's Hayabusa Spacecraft

Thursday, Jun. 17, 2010

Hayabusa spacecraft as it breaks into pieces

An image recorded from NASA's DC-8 airborne laboratory June 13, 2010, of the Hayabusa spacecraft as it breaks into pieces after entering the Earth’s upper atmosphere. Courtesy of NASA Ames Research Center.

USU physicists Mike Taylor, left, and Jonathan Snively on plane

USU physicists Mike Taylor, left, and Jonathan Snively were among the scientists aboard NASA's DC-8 as the team recorded images of the Japanese spacecraft’s return to Earth above Australia.

Utah State University physicists Mike Taylor and Jonathan Snively are racking up an impressive amount of frequent flyer miles aboard NASA’s DC-8 airborne laboratory. The pair, which just returned from capturing images of Japan’s Hayabusa spacecraft as it made its fiery June 13 return to Earth, has made several trips on the highly-modified observation jet.
“It was great — everything went well,” says Taylor, professor in USU’s Department of Physics.
As part of a 30-member international scientific team, Taylor and Snively, a USU postdoctoral researcher, traveled this past week [June 7-13] from NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center in California to Australia to record the probe as it returned from a seven-year space mission.
Hayabusa is the first spacecraft to land on an asteroid and return to Earth. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, also known as JAXA, which launched the project, is hopeful that the probe captured some dust from asteroid 25143 Itokowa.
Aboard NASA’s jetliner, Taylor and Snively mounted a variety of video cameras to record data as Hayabusa sped into the Earth’s upper atmosphere, jettisoned a small sample return capsule and disintegrated into glowing pieces. As planned, the capsule landed in a remote military-testing zone in South Australia’s outback known as the Woomera Prohibited Area.
Taylor says study of spacecraft re-entries yields valuable information about the behavior and emissions of satellites — both manmade and natural. When Hayabusa, which means “falcon” in English, burst through the Earth’s atmosphere, it reached temperatures hotter than the surface of the sun.
Among their forays on the NASA jet, Taylor and Snively recorded the re-entry of the European Space Agency’s Jules Verne Automated Transfer Vehicle in September 2008 and Taylor photographed the re-entry of NASA’s Stardust capsule in 2006. The duo will spend the next year analyzing data from Hayabusa’s re-entry.
Related links:
Contact: Mike Taylor, 435-797-3919,
Writer: Mary-Ann Muffoletto, 435-797-3517,

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