Hayabusa Is Back!

The sample return capsule of the Hayabusa spacecraft has successfully returned to Earth. The video below was taken by a NASA DC-8 aircraft specifically equipped to observe the event.

The video shows the disintegration of the main Hayabusa spacecraft. The small consistent “meteor” to the lower right of the disintegrating spacecraft is the sample return capsule. The original plan was for the main spacecraft to release the capsule for Earth return and then change its trajectory in order to miss the Earth. That way the main spacecraft would fly past the Earth and be able to visit other targets. Due to the many propulsion problems it could not conduct the necessary maneuvers and, instead, re-entered  the Earth’s  atmosphere right behind the sample return capsule. Since it did not have a protective heat shield like the capsule it did not survive passage through the atmosphere.

Hopefully we’ll hear soon whether any asteroid samples have been recovered.