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Japanese spacecraft Images Earth and Moon on Flyby.

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Earth and Moon.
Earth and Moon: Image credit: JAXA.

The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency's (JAXA) MUSES-C spacecraft snapped pictures of the Earth and Moon as it made a flyby past our planet. The maneuver is called a gravity assist, which uses the Earth's gravity to give the spacecraft a boost in speed. The ion engine powered spacecraft skimmed past our planet at an altitude of only 3700 km before continuing on towards its final target: asteroid Itokawa (1998SF36). It will reach the asteroid in summer 2005, and then spend 5 months orbiting and collecting samples from its surface. It will then leave the asteroid and return the samples to Earth in 2007.

The Space Engineering spacecraft "Hayabusa" (MUSES-C) launched on May 9, 2003, by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has been flying smoothly in a heliocentric orbit for about a year using its ion engines.

On May 19, Hayabusa came close to the Earth, and successfully carried out an Earth swing-by to place it in a new elliptical orbit toward the asteroid "ITOKAWA".

The Earth swing-by is a technique to significantly change direction of an orbit and/or speed by using the Earth's gravity without consuming onboard propellant. Hayabusa came closest to the Earth at 3:22 p.m. on May 19 (Japan Standard Time) at an altitude of approximately 3700 km.

The combination of acceleration by the ion engines and the Earth swing-by performed this time was the first technological verification in the world, both in the sense of plot and implementation.

After its precise orbit is determined in a week, Hayabusa will restart its ion engines to fly toward "ITOKAWA".

Hayabusa acquired Earth images using its onboard optical navigation camera (which is for detecting a relative position to an asteroid and for scientific observations) as it neared the Earth. You can find these images at the following websites:

Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS)


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