NEC Tapped To Build Second Asteroid-bound Hayabusa Probe

by

TOKYO — NEC Corp. of Tokyo said Jan. 25 that it has been selected to start work on designing and building hardware for Japan’s Hayabusa-2 asteroid sample-return mission, which the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) hopes to launch in 2014.

Chris Shimizu, an NEC spokesman, said that the selection will allow NEC to start building the probe, which will be similar in design to the original Hayabusa spacecraft that traveled 6 billion kilometers over seven years to collect about 60 particles of the asteroid 25143 Itokawa and return them to Earth in June 2010.

Shimizu declined to give the value of NEC’s contract for the satellite, development of which is expected to exceed 16 billion yen ($204 million).

According to information released by NEC, Hayabusa-2 will weigh 600 kilograms fully fueled and will be built on a slightly bigger satellite platform, or frame, than the original Hayabusa.

“It’ll be a rectangular frame, but slightly deeper than Hayabusa,” Shimizu said.

NEC also built the first Hayabusa, an ion engine-powered craft that took an additional three years to complete its mission due to several crippling problems that cropped up following the 510-kilogram craft’s 2003 launch atop a Japanese solid-fuel M-5 rocket.

According to JAXA, the Hayabusa-2 mission is being designed to visit 1999 JU3, an approximately 920-meter-diameter object in a similar orbit to Itokawa, but thought to be a so-called C- type, or carbonaceous, asteroid. Such asteroids are plentiful, rocky and thought to contain organic materials and perhaps water. Itokawa is an S-type asteroid, which are stony and the second most common after C-type.

Hayabusa-2 will carry a more powerful sample collection system than the original Hayabusa, and will attempt to dig a crater in the asteroid to bring a bigger cache of samples back to Earth.

NEC plans to make one major improvement on Hayabusa-2 over the first model: it will be equipped with a Ka-band communications subsystem that will be faster than the original Hayabusa’s X-band system. The new craft also will have more sophisticated camera and be able to better capture the shape and the geography of the asteroid, according to NEC.

JAXA spokesman Eijiro Namura said Jan. 25 that Hayabusa-2 is targeted for launch in 2014 aboard Japan’s mainstay H-2A rocket, a bigger rocket than the M-5 that launched the first Hayabusa.

“We haven’t released details of the launch and how much spare capacity we will have on the H-2A,” Namura said.

JAXA expects Hayabusa-2 development to cost 16.2 billion yen, a figure that does not include launch costs. Namura said the project will receive a 3 billion yen budget for the fiscal year that begins April 1.

If launched in 2014, Hayabusa-2 would reach its target in 2018, survey the asteroid for a year and a half, depart in December 2019, and return in December 2020, according to JAXA.

The day before NEC announced that it has been tapped to build Hayabusa-2, JAXA issued a call for research proposals from scientists interested in receiving a portion of the first Hayabusa’s sample haul for study.

The Jan. 24 announcement of opportunity, according to a posting on JAXA’s website, is open to scientists around the world. Proposals are due March 7 and selections are expected to be made in mid-May. JAXA said samples would be distributed to selected researchers “soon after.”