Hayabusa Asteroid Itokawa Samples

Near-Earth Asteroid Itokawa, the target of the Hayabusa mission, photographed by the Hayabusa mission in 2005

Photo of near-Earth Asteroid Itokawa taken by the Hayabusa spacecraft in 2005.
(Photo courtesy of JAXA)

Hayabusa, the first sample return mission of the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), was developed to rendezvous with and collect samples from asteroid Itokawa and return them to Earth. The mission was launched in May 9, 2003 from the Uchinoura Space Center and encountered asteroid Itokawa in November 2005. There, it made several attempts at collecting samples in touch and go maneuvers. During one of these attempts the spacecraft unexpectedly lost communication with Earth and crash-landed on the asteroid surface, damaging the spacecraft. Despite this setback, JAXA managed to return Hayabusa safely to the Earth on June 13, 2010.

Although the sampling mechanism did not work, thousands of 10-100 µm particles were found in one of the sample containers, apparently introduced during the spacecraft impact into the surface of the asteroid. Many of these particles are shown to be asteroidal grains by their chemistry and mineralogy, but they are mixed with contaminant particles from the spacecraft. Thus, instead of returning several grams of sample, Hayabusa has returned less than a milligram of sample. Nevertheless, these are the first direct samples of an asteroid and their geological context is well established from extensive spacecraft surveys of Itokawa by the Hayabusa spacecraft. These samples therefore have great scientific value.

Initial chemical and mineralogical analysis was performed by the Hayabusa Joint Science Team, which is comprised of scientists from universities and research institutions in Japan, Australia, and the United States. See the About The Hayabusa Mission section of this site for a list of NASA researchers who participated in the Hayabusa Joint Science team.

NASA will receive approximately 10% of the returned sample for its support of the mission. The first 15 Hayabusa particles were delivered Dec 2011.  This material will be curated at Johnson Space Center and made available for allocation to the international scientific community beginning in early 2012. Hayabusa sample requests are now being accepted by the Curator at JSC. For request deadlines and guidelines, see the Sample Requests section of this site.

State of the Hayabusa Samples

The asteroidal particles were observed as fine particles dispersed on the interior surface of the Hayabusa sample collector. Initial attempts to remove particles individually by micromanipulators were determined to be ineffective. So far, particles have been removed in two ways: gently swabbing a Teflon spatula along the surface of the collector and by simply tapping the collector and collecting particles that fell out. An unknown number of asteroidal particles remain in the collector. The methods for storing and transporting the particles are still being worked out. In general, it is likely that small particles (<25 µm) will simply be set on clean surfaces and transferred to NASA. Such small particles are tightly bound to surfaces by electrostatic force. Larger particles and conductive samples are more challenging to work with because electrostatic forces are much weaker. However, these are valuable samples, so developing methods to safely store, transport, and manipulate these large grains are a high priority and are currently under development. Investigators should be aware that many of the particles recovered are contaminants, so some asteroidal particles may be contaminated.

Hayabusa Sample Preparation

The Curatorial Facility at JSC is responsible for the preparation of Hayabusa samples, within the capabilities of the Curatorial operation. Although a few particles may reach several hundred mm, most available particles will be on the order of 10 µm or smaller. JSC Curation has extensive experience in the handling and preparation of small particles, including interplanetary dust particles (IDPs) and Stardust Mission samples. However, each laboratory/instrument may have unique sample preparation requirements that go beyond the capabilities or experience of the JSC Curation facility. Investigators are strongly encouraged to consult closely with the JSC curatorial staff regarding their sample preparation requirements before submitting a sample request. The Curator may in turn refer the Investigator to others in the community having expertise in specific areas of sample preparation.

The most common types of samples made available by JSC curation include whole particles, microtome slices, and potted butts prepared from grains by microtomy.

Hayabusa Samples

Updated March 2015

Sample Number Particle Size Mineral Phase Availability
Abbreviations: ap-apatatite, fld-feldspar, hpx-high calcium pyroxene, lpx-low calcium pyroxene, ol-olivine, pl-plagioclase, tr-troilite
RA-QD02-0084 100 µm ol, tr Available
RA-QD02-0124 56 µm ol, pl On Loan
RA-QD02-0126-01 41 µm lpx, FeS Available
RA-QD02-0130 45 µm lpx, FeS Available
RA-QD02-0137 26 µm ol, lpx, pl Available
RA-QD02-0143 49 µm lpx, ol On Loan
RA-QD02-0151 87 µm ol, pl Available
RA-QD02-0155 44 µm lpx Available
RA-QD02-0192 46 µm ol, pl, hpx, FeS On Loan
RA-QD02-0193 48 µm ol, hpx, pl Available
RA-QD02-0195 83 µm ol, tr Available
RA-QD02-0201 58 µm ol, hpx Available
RA-QD02-0202-1 56 µm ol, pl On Loan
RA-QD02-0215 31 µm ol Available
RA-QD02-0216 38 µm ol, Al Available
RA-QD02-0248 148 µm ol, hpx, pl, tr Available
RB-CV-0013 98.5 µm lpx, pl, hpx, ol Available
RB-CV-0014 98 µm ol, tr Available
RB-CV-0015 45.5 µm ol, pl Available
RB-CV-0028 76 µm pl, hpx, ol Available
RB-QD04-0002 38 µm ol, pl, K-fld Available
RB-QD04-0005 34 µm hpx, pl Available
RB-QD04-0030-01 177 µm hpx, lpx, ol, pl, tr Available
RB-QD04-0038 53 µm lpx, ol Available
RB-QD04-0104 42 µm ol, pl Available

copyright : NASA

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