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Japan's space agency calls on Hitachi to handle precious asteroid samples brought to Earth by its explorer.
Hayabusa is the name given to an asteroid explorer that has captivated space enthusiasts all over the world. In 1969, NASA's Apollo 11 spacecraft landed on the moon, and humans brought back samples from the moon's surface for the first time in history. Some 36 years later, in 2005, Hayabusa, which was developed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), landed on the Itokawa asteroid. Then, after five years of travel and tribulations, Hayabusa brought back samples from a celestial body other than the Moon for the first time, making headlines and generating tremendous excitement among the scientific community. About the significance of this feat, Associate Professor Dr. Masanao Abe of JAXA says, "These samples are extremely valuable for unraveling some of the mysteries behind the creation of our solar system."
When we study meteorites, we normally do not know where they came from. However, because this sample was taken from the Itokawa asteroid by Hayabusa, we are certain of its origin. It's unlike any sample used before and extremely valuable to science.
Dr. Masanao Abe
Department of Solar System Sciences, JAXA
The next challenge for the Hayabusa project team in carrying out this unprecedented mission was how to retrieve the precious sample taken from Itokawa without it being contaminated by the Earth's atmosphere. This was one of the most important factors in the research and analysis of the sample.
The Hitachi Group played a key role in this unprecedented project, bringing together its teamwork and technological capabilities to support JAXA. In this case study, we will lift the veil on the "other" Hayabusa project.
The Hayabusa explorer brought back particles from the Itokawa asteroid. JAXA needed to open the capsule containing the samples in a carefully-controlled environment so they would not be contaminated by Earth's atmosphere or scatter about in the air. The agency also needed advanced analytic equipment to examine the miniscule material.
Hitachi utilized its technologies from numerous fields to develop a curation facility with a clean chamber for opening the capsule and special tools for extracting the fine particles. It also utilized a scanning electron microscope to confirm that the particles did indeed come from outer space.
Thanks to its innovative curation facility, Hitachi helped JAXA extract and examine the samples. JAXA was then able to fulfill its mission and distribute samples from an extraterrestrial source for the first time to global space agencies. Hitachi earned praise from NASA for its help with this major advance in space exploration.
The information in this case study is current as of December 2013.
Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)
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