This area will cover relevant news of the threat to the planet from Near Earth Objects (NEOs) including concepts and designs for mitigation. All opinions are those of the author.

18 June 2010

Meeting Notice: NASA Advisory Council Ad-Hoc Task Force on Planetary Defense (8-9 July 2010)

Meeting of the NASA Ad-Hoc Task Force on Planetary Defense

[Federal Register: June 15, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 114)]
[Page 33838]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access []



[Notice (10-065)]

NASA Advisory Council; Ad-Hoc Task Force on Planetary Defense;

AGENCY: National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

ACTION: Notice of Meeting.


SUMMARY: In accordance with the Federal Advisory Committee Act, Public
Law 92-463, as amended, the National Aeronautics and Space
Administration announces a meeting of the Ad-Hoc Task Force on
Planetary Defense of the NASA Advisory Council.

DATES: Thursday, July 8, 2010, 8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m., and Friday, July 9,
2010, 8 a.m.-12:45 p.m. (all times are Mountain Daylight Savings Time).

ADDRESSES: Millennium Harvest House, 1345 28th Street, Boulder,
Colorado 80302 (room will be posted in hotel lobby).

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Ms. Jane Parham, Exploration Systems
Mission Directorate, National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Headquarters, Washington, DC 20546, (202) 358-1715;

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The agenda topics for the meeting will

Work plan and timeline.
Report on fact-finding meetings.
Asteroid detection, warning, response, and concepts for deflection.
International coordination on planetary defense against asteroids.

The meeting will be open to the public up to the seating capacity
of the room. It is imperative that the meeting be held on this date to
accommodate the scheduling priorities of the key participants. Visitors
will be required to sign a register when they enter the meeting room.

For questions, please call Ms. Jane Parham, at (202) 358-1715.

Dated: June 9, 2010.
P. Diane Rausch,
Advisory Committee Management Officer, National Aeronautics and Space
[FR Doc. 2010-14408 Filed 6-14-10; 8:45 am]

Link: Federal Register

14 June 2010

Hayabusa Earth Reentry Update

The Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa re-entered Earth this weekend and its sample return spacecraft landed successfully. Here is a roundup of news and information. The Planetary Society Blog had updates on the entire return.

A view of Hayabusa burning up over Australia courtesy of the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shumbun Credit: Yomiuri Shimbun

Hayabusa sample return capsule sitting in the Woomera desert, Australia
On June 14, 2010, following its dramatic, fiery reentry the night before, the Hayabusa sample return capsule sat on the ground in the Woomera Prohibited Area, Australia, waiting to be retrieved. Credit: JAXA

This is the final photo captured by Hayabusa as it approached its reentry into Earth's atmosphere. It was taken roughly an hour before the end of the mission, after it had already released the sample capsule. Credit: JAXA

Link: The Planetary Society Blog (Hayabusa sample capsule photographed on the ground in Australia)

Link: The Planetary Society Blog (Hayabusa's return: a review)

Link: The Planetary Society Blog (Welcome home, Hayabusa!)

Link: The Planetary Society Blog (Preparing for Hayabusa's return)

Link: YouTube (NASA DC-8 Video of Hayabusa Re-entry)

Link: JAXA Hayabusa Page

Link: Hayabusa Re-entry Airborne Observing Campaign

10 June 2010

NASA's Part in Return of Hayabusa

This artist's concept depicts the Hayabusa spacecraft (left) and sample return capsule (right) entering the atmosphere over South Australia. Image credit: NASA/JPL

From the JPL news release...

The space and astronomy worlds have June 13 circled on the calendar.

That's when the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) expects the sample return capsule of the agency's technology demonstrator spacecraft, Hayabusa, to boomerang back to Earth. The capsule, along with its mother ship, visited a near-Earth asteroid, Itokawa, five years ago and has logged about 2 billion kilometers (1.25 billion miles) since its launch in May 2003.

With the return of the Hayabusa capsule, targeted for June 13 at Australia's remote Woomera Test Range in South Australia, JAXA will have concluded a remarkable mission of exploration -- one in which NASA scientists and engineers are playing a contributing role.

"Hayabusa will be the first space mission to have made physical contact with an asteroid and returned to Earth," said Tommy Thompson, NASA's Hayabusa project manager from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "The mission and its team have faced and overcome several challenges over the past seven years. This round-trip journey is a significant space achievement and one which NASA is proud to be part of."

Launched May 9, 2003, from the Kagoshima Space Center, Uchinoura, Japan, Hayabusa was designed as a flying testbed. Its mission: to research several new engineering technologies necessary for returning planetary samples to Earth for further study. With Hayabusa, JAXA scientists and engineers hoped to obtain detailed information on electrical propulsion and autonomous navigation, as well as an asteroid sampler and sample reentry capsule.

The 510-kilogram (950-pound) Hayabusa spacecraft rendezvoused with asteroid Itokawa in September 2005. Over the next two-and-a-half months, the spacecraft made up-close and personal scientific observations of the asteroid's shape, terrain, surface altitude distribution, mineral composition, gravity, and the way it reflected the sun's rays. On Nov. 25 of that year, Hayabusa briefly touched down on the surface of Itokawa. That was only the second time in history a spacecraft descended to the surface of an asteroid (NASA's Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous-Shoemaker spacecraft landed on asteroid Eros on Feb. 12, 2001). Hayabusa marked the first attempt to sample asteroid surface material.

The spacecraft departed Itokawa in January 2007. The road home for the technology demonstrator has been a long one, with several anomalies encountered along the way. But now the spacecraft is three days away from its home planet, and the Australian government, working closely with JAXA, has cleared the mission for landing. A team of Japanese and American navigators is guiding Hayabusa on the final leg of its journey. Together, they calculate the final trajectory correction maneuvers Hayabusa's ion propulsion system must perform for a successful homecoming.

"We have been collaborating with the JAXA navigators since the launch of the mission," said Shyam Bhaskaran, a member of JPL's Hayabusa navigation team. "We worked closely with them during the descents to the asteroid, and now are working together to guide the spacecraft back home."

To obtain the data they need, the navigation team frequently calls upon JAXA's tracking stations in Japan, as well as those of NASA's Deep Space Network, which has antennas at Goldstone, in California's Mojave Desert; near Madrid, Spain; and near Canberra, Australia. In addition, the stations provide mission planners with near-continuous communications with the spacecraft to keep them informed on spacecraft health.

"Our task is to help advise JAXA on how to best get a spacecraft traveling at 12.2 kilometers per second (27,290 miles per hour) to intersect a very specific target point 200 kilometers (120 miles) above the Earth," said Bhaskaran. "Once that is done, and the heat shield of the sample return capsule starts glowing from atmospheric friction, our job is done."

While atmospheric entry may be the end of the line for the team that has plotted the spacecraft's every move for the past 2 billion kilometers, NASA's involvement continues for the craft's final 200 kilometers (120 miles), to the surface of the Australian Outback. A joint Japanese-U.S. team operating on the ground and in the air will monitor this most critical event to help retrieve the capsule and heat shield.

"This is the second highest velocity re-entry of a capsule in history," said Peter Jenniskens, a SETI Institute scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. "This extreme entry speed will result in high heating rates and thermal loads to the capsule's heat shield. Such manmade objects entering with interplanetary speed do not happen every day, and we hope to get a ringside seat to this one."

Jenniskens is leading an international team as it monitor the final plunge of Hayabusa to Earth using NASA's DC-8 airborne laboratory, which is managed and piloted by a crew from NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, Calif. The DC-8 flies above most clouds, allowing an unfettered line of sight for its instrument suite measuring the shock-heated gas and capsule surface radiation emitted by the re-entry fireball.

The data acquired by the high-flying team will help evaluate how thermal protection systems behave during these super-speedy spacecraft re-entries. This, in turn, will help engineers understand what a sample return capsule returning from Mars would undergo. The Hayabusa sample return capsule re-entry observation will be similar to earlier observations by the DC-8 team of NASA's Stardust capsule return, and the re-entry of the European Space Agency's ATV-1 ("Jules Verne") automated transfer vehicle.

Soon after the sample return capsule touches down on the ground, Hayabusa team members will retrieve it and transport it to JAXA's sample curatorial facility in Sagamihara, Japan. There, Japanese astromaterials scientists, assisted by two scientists from NASA and one from Australia, will perform a preliminary cataloging and analysis of the capsule's contents.

"This preliminary analysis follows the basic protocols used for Apollo moon rocks, Genesis and Stardust samples," said Mike Zolensky, a scientist at NASA's Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science Directorate at the Johnson Space Center, Houston. "If this capsule contains samples from the asteroid, we expect it will take a year to determine the primary characteristics of the samples, and learn how to best handle them. Then the samples will be distributed to scientists worldwide for more detailed analysis."

"The Japanese and NASA engineers and scientists involved in Hayabusa's return from asteroid Itokawa are proud of their collaboration and their joint accomplishments," said Thompson. "Certainly, any samples retrieved from Itokawa will provide exciting new insights to understanding the early history of the solar system. This will be the icing on the cake, as this mission has already taught us so much. "

For more information about the Hayabusa mission, visit:

Link: JPL News Release ("NASA Helps in Upcoming Asteroid Mission Homecoming")

08 June 2010

As Hayabusa returns to Earth, A Recap

The Planetary Society blog gives a recap of the Hayabusa mission, a few days before a retry capsule comes back to Earth...

Hayabusa was conceived as a daring mission that would return a sample from a tiny asteroid, smaller by far than any that had been visited before. The asteroid would be so small that its gravity would be negligible; instead of entering orbit, Hayabusa would match orbits with it and grab a sample in a maneuver that was more similar to docking with another spacecraft than it was to landing on another planet.

The audacious mission required incredibly precise guidance and control of the little spacecraft. The solar-powered craft was fitted with four gimbaled ion engines as its main thrust source, a more traditional chemical thruster system (actually, two separate systems for redundancy) for maneuvering (particularly important for the delicate operation of touching down on the asteroid), and three reaction wheels for control of the spacecraft's orientation in space. It had a sampling horn that would contact the asteroid, fire pellets at its surface to knock asteroid dust off, and enclose the flying asteroidal material into a sample return capsule equipped with heat shield and parachute.

The spacecraft launched as "MUSES-C" on May 9, 2003, aboard an MV-5 rocket, from the Uchinoura Launch Center, Kagoshima, Kyushu, Japan. After its launch, it was renamed "Hayabusa," or "peregrine falcon."

Hayabusa captured this photo of Itokawa as it passed between the Sun and the tiny asteroid on November 10, 2005. Hayabusa's shadow is visible on the surface of the asteroid -- a tiny spacecraft causing a tiny solar eclipse on a tiny object.

Hayabusa's near-Earth asteroid target was chosen not because of any particularly special qualities of the asteroid itself. Rather, the asteroid was picked on the basis of what Hayabusa could reach, given its launch date and the capabilities of its ion-powered flight. In fact, Hayabusa's eventual destination was only first discovered less than five years before the spacecraft launched toward it. (In this way, the Hayabusa mission is similar to the Kuiper belt mission of New Horizons -- that spacecraft will be aimed for some small Kuiper belt object or objects that still have yet to be discovered.)

Hayabusa's target asteroid had been named 1998 SF36 when it was discovered by the LINEAR project, and received the provisional designation 25143 shortly after. After Hayabusa launched, it was formally named Itokawa after Hideo Itokawa, who is regarded as the father of Japanese rocketry, and who oversaw the first orbital Japanese launch in 1970.

Link: Planetary Society Blog (Six days left for Hayabusa: A recap of the mission)

04 June 2010

Getting to Asteroids and Comets May Have Just Become Easier: SpaceX Falcon 9 Flight 1 is Successful

Falcon 9 Lifts off from KSC on 04 June 2010 (Source: @RobertPearlman)

This view from a camera on SpaceX's first Falcon 9 rocket shows the Earth far below as the rocket soared into orbit on its inaugural launch June 4, 2010. Credit: SpaceX.

Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) had a successful first flight for their Falcon 9 launch vehicle today.

Link: SpaceFlightNow (Falcon 9 Status)

Link: article (New Private Rocket Soars Into Space on First Flight )

New Impact Event at Jupiter Found (03 June 2010)

Amateur astronomers Anthony Wesley (whose video this is) of Australia and Christopher Go of the Philippines have independently observed an impact event on Jupiter. The strike occurred at 20:31 UT on June 3rd, 2010 and produced a bright flash of light in the giant planet's cloudtops., Anthony Wesley:, Christopher Go:, credit: Anthony Wesley (video), NASA (text)

Christopher Go of the Philippines observed an impact event on Jupiter. The strike occurred on June 3 2010 and produced a bright flash of light in the planet's cloudtops.

This photo of Jupiter taken June 3, 2010 by Australian amateur astronomer Anthony Wesley shows a bright fireball from an apparent meteor or other object. Skywatcher Christopher Go of the Philippines also caught the event on video. Credit: Anthony Wesley.

A most recent impact event on Jupiter has been observed (video - .wmv file). The Planetary Society Blog has an been giving updates, here is their latest one. From article...

A huge fireball has been spotted on Jupiter in yet another collision from space caught on camera and video by amateur astronomers.

The new Jupiter crash occurred on June 3 at 20:31 UT (4:31 p.m. Eastern Time) and was spotted by skywatcher Anthony Wesley in Australia and fellow amateur astronomer Christopher Go in the Philippines.

Wesley's photos show the Jupiter fireball blazing in the atmosphere of the gas giant planet. So far, no visible scar in the clouds has been reported from the event.

Wesley described the event as a "large fireball" on his website, where he posted the photos taken from Broken Hill, Australia.

This new impact on Jupiter comes less than a year after a spectacular crash on July 19, 2009, when what scientist now think was an asteroid about 1,600 feet (500 meters) wide slammed into the planet. That collision created a massive bruise the size of the Pacific Ocean. [Gallery: Jupiter gets smacked.]

It was Wesley, too, who first spotted the July 2009 collision. His observations kicked off an international observation campaign to study the impact site.

Astronomers initially suspected a comet in last year's impact, but announced this week that a rogue asteroid was the most likely culprit.

And Jupiter has been smacked before.

In 1994, the comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 broke into more than 20 pieces and pelted Jupiter repeatedly. At the time, astronomers estimated such impacts could occur on Jupiter every 50 to 250 years. So they were surprised by the July 2009 impact.

From Cosmic Log article...

Actually, two of the world's best-known amateur observers of Jupiter both saw the flash of impact at 20:31 GMT today (4:31 p.m. ET). In Australia, Anthony Wesley captured a picture of the hit just before sunrise Friday (Down Under time). And in the Philippines, Christopher Go turned his pictures into a short video that was posted on

"I still can't believe that I caught a live impact on Jupiter," SpaceWeather quoted Go as saying.

It's not known exactly what caused the impact, but whether it was an asteroid or a comet, it's likely to have left a mark on Jupiter's cloud tops. So the call has gone out for all astronomers, professional and amateur, to monitor Jupiter in the hours ahead.

Link: Article

Link: MSNBC Article Cosmic Log

Link: Impact Video (.wmv file) 

Link: Article (Cebu astronomer documents asteroid hitting Jupiter)

Link: Christopher Go website on Jupiter observations

Link: The Planetary Society Blog Update (Confirmation of the Jupiter impact from Christopher Go)

Link: The Planetary Society Blog Update (The June 3 Jupiter Impact: 22 hours later)

Link: YouTube (Jupiter Impact)

Link: YouTube (Asteroid Impact on Jupiter; Anthony Wesley (2010.06.03))

03 June 2010

Hubble Images Suggest Rogue Asteroid Smacked Jupiter

From HubbleSite News Article...

These NASA Hubble Space Telescope snapshots reveal an impact scar on Jupiter fading from view over several months between July 2009 and November 2009.

The Hubble image of Jupiter's full disk was taken July 23, 2009, revealing an elongated, dark spot at lower, right (inside the rectangular box).

The photograph was taken four days after an amateur astronomer first spotted the scar. The unexpected blemish was created when an unknown object plunged into Jupiter and exploded, scattering debris into the giant planet's cloud tops. The strike was equal to the explosion of a few thousand standard nuclear bombs.

The series of close-up images at right, taken between July 23, 2009 and Nov. 3, 2009, show the impact site rapidly disappearing. Jupiter's winds also are spreading the debris into intricate swirls.

To determine the nature of the culprit that smacked Jupiter, astronomers compared the Hubble images of the 2009 impact site with Hubble photographs of the Comet P/Shoemaker-Levy 9 (SL9) assault on Jupiter in July 1994. In the SL9 collision, more than 20 pieces of a known comet bombarded Jupiter.

Based on that comparison, astronomers say the intruder may have been a rogue asteroid about 1,600 feet (500 meters) wide. The images of the 2009 impact, therefore, may show for the first time the immediate aftermath of an asteroid striking another planet.

One clue pointing to a possible asteroid strike is the swiftly vanishing impact site, which may be due to a lack of lightweight particles in the debris. An asteroid collision may produce fewer fine particles than a strike by a dusty comet.

The impact site's elongated shape also indicates that the object descended from a shallower angle than the SL9 fragments.

The natural-color images are composites made from separate exposures in blue, green, and red light.

Link: STSCI Article (Hubble Images Suggest Rogue Asteroid Smacked Jupiter)

01 June 2010

Hayabusa Sample Return Update

Artist's concept of Hayabusa's sample container during re-entry. Credit: JAXA

From Spaceflight Now article...

Two weeks before its scheduled return to Earth, Japan's Hayabusa asteroid explorer is halfway through a series of unprecedented ion engine burns to aim the probe for a narrow re-entry corridor toward Australia.

The Japanese space agency says the spacecraft remains on track for its landing June 13 at the Woomera Test Facility in South Australia. The re-entry should occur around 1400 GMT, or in the late night hours of June 13, Australian time.

The Hayabusa mothership will release the 16-inch-wide entry capsule about three hours before landing as the probe travels around 25,000 miles from Earth. During re-entry, temperatures around the capsule will reach about 4,900 degrees Fahrenheit, but the tiny craft will be protected by a carbon-fiber heat shield.

Parachutes will deploy to slow the capsule's speed for touchdown in the Australian outback.

Because Hayabusa's chemical fuel tanks are empty, Japanese engineers had to devise ways to keep the spacecraft on course using ion thrusters, highly-efficient engines typically used for long-duration burns lasting thousands of hours.

Hayabusa's sole operational ion thruster, afflicted by its own technical trouble, has fired three times since early April to guide the spacecraft toward Earth. Each trajectory correction maneuver, which would normally be executed using chemical engines, takes up to several days to complete because of the ion engine's low thrust.

The craft completed its third correction firing early Thursday, Japanese time. The nearly 100-hour burn changed Hayabusa's velocity by 11 mph and put the probe on course for the Earth rim point, an imaginary target 200 kilometers above the planet's surface.

The fine-tuning burns beginning in April came after the ion thruster completed its long-term propulsion phase in late March.

The probe is currently traveling 3.5 million miles from Earth, according to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

Hayabusa will fire its ion engine two more times in the coming weeks to target the spacecraft's trajectory for the Woomera landing site.

The next burn is scheduled to begin around June 6 to bend Hayabusa's trajectory from the Earth rim point to its destination in Australia. A final maneuver, tentatively timelined for three days before re-entry, will correct any errors in the course toward the landing site.

Hayabusa, which is about the size of a compact car, launched from Japan in 2003 and spent three months exploring asteroid Itokawa in late 2005. Hayabusa means falcon in Japanese.

Although the craft likely did not achieve its objective of collecting samples from Itokawa, scientists are hopeful Hayabusa's landing capsule carries some asteroid residue. Even if the container is empty, the $200 million mission would still complete the first round-trip voyage to and from an asteroid, assuming the crippled spacecraft can complete the final two weeks of its journey.

Link: SpaceFlight Now Article

Link: Hayabusa Project Page (English)
Note: Any opinions expressed on the blog are solely those of the author. The site is not sponsored by, nor does it represent the opinions of, any organization, corporation, or other entity.