An Observing Campaign to Study the Re-Entry of Hayabusa

Grant #: NNX10AH17A
Senior Scientist: Peter Jenniskens

This cooperative agreement is to support an airborne and ground-based observing campaign to study the physical conditions experienced during re-entry by the HAYABUSA sample return capsule and bus over Australia in June of 2010. The observing campaign will make the HAYABUSA entry into a systems-level field test of the performance of a thermal protection system (TPS) under Mars-like entry conditions. The entry conditions are also similar to those of some natural fireballs, which makes this a controlled experiment to test key processes in the exogenous delivery of prebiotic compounds. Measurements will be made of the body surface temperature as a function of altitude, the intensity and nature of the emitted shock radiation, which contributes to the surface heating, and the ablation rate of TPS compounds. The measurements will put in context the state of the recovered heat shield and will validate theoretical models and laboratory experiments of the capsule's thermal protection material, a carbon-carbon ablator. This will be only the second hypervelocity entry of a thermal protection system at speeds above the escape speed of Earth that can be studied by remote sensing instruments. Past campaigns executed by NASA Ames Research Center and the SETI Institute studied the GENESIS and STARDUST sample return capsule entries. The HAYABUSA mission will built on these past experiences. The new mission will utilize meteor-observing capabilities developed at the SETI Institute and by participating researchers, with prior use on aircraft and in the field. The work will include the organization of the Multi-instrument Aircraft Campaign (MAC), the collection of data, and the analysis and publication of calibrated results, as well as instrument development in support of these missions, and research into the physical and dynamical properties of meteors and meteoroid streams. The P.I. of this cooperative agreement will be the Principal Investigator and main logistics coordinator, by arranging for available research aircraft, assembling capable researchers and suitable instruments, and by contributing to the measurements and data analysis. Future tasks in the context of this cooperative agreement may include more in-depth post-flight data analysis and other research in artificial and natural meteors and fireballs.