HAYABUSA coming back to terrestrial gravitation realm! Soon to be home
Hayabusa this week has further narrowed the closest approach distance to
Earth, and the distance has become down to about 1.4 million kilometers.
The out-of-plane approach direction is also on the exact path planned as
the figures indicate. The fact that the spacecraft is on the path
passing through the Earth gravity sphere does mean that Hayabusa has
accomplished its round-trip cruise from Earth, by way of Itokawa and
back to Earth.
Hayabusa is now the world's first spacecraft returning back to Earth after landing and lifting off the surface of a celestial object outside Earth-Moon system.
The project plans to make it fly within Moon's distance next, and reentry into Earth atmosphere, and recovery of the capsule on the ground. It is currently at around 60 million kilometers from Earth with additional ion engine propulsion for two months.
Project manager Junichiro Kawaguchi
January 14, 2010