Shoal was proud to support the Australian Space Agency to provide advice to ensure the safe return to Earth of asteroid samples from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Hayabusa2 mission. The Sample Return Capsule containing material from the Ryugu asteroid landed this morning at Woomera, South Australia, after a six-year journey of over five billion kilometres. The long journey finished with a fiery re-entry over Australia at hypersonic speeds followed by a gentle descent under parachute to the ground.

In August 2020, Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, the Hon Karen Andrews MP, authorised the return of the capsule to Earth at Woomera. Shoal, supported by Asia Pacific Aerospace Consultants, conducted an independent assessment of the JAXA application, to support the Australian Space Agency in providing detailed advice to the Minister. Shoal also performed detailed hypersonic re-entry trajectory modelling and analysis to assess a range of risks and potential safety issues in the lead up to the return.

“A key challenge was the development and assurance of sufficiently detailed models to represent the hypersonic re-entry of the Hayabusa2 Sample Return Capsule,” said Shena Howell, Space Systems Engineering Lead at Shoal. “This had to be done for both nominal and failure conditions, including uncertainties in key environmental and vehicle design parameters.”

These challenges extended across all mission phases from the capsule’s re-entry starting point, which begins in space by entering the atmosphere at hypersonic speeds, through to the separation of the heat shields and final descent under parachute.

A Shoal team provided technical advice to the Australian Space Agency to support key decisions during the trajectory correction manoeuvre events over the final days of the return journey to Earth.

Shoal has almost two decades of experience in the Australian space sector and has deep expertise in space safety analysis. The company has conducted a wide range of space (and military guided weapon) activities, including the safety analysis for the return to Earth of the first Hayabusa mission in 2010.

Congratulations to JAXA and the Australian Space Agency on a successful mission.

Image: An illustration of the trajectory modelling

Image: An illustration of the trajectory modelling undertaken for the Hayabusa2 mission.

Learn more:

The Hon Karen Andrews MP media release – Japan’s Hayabusa2 Space Capsule successfully found in South Australia, 6 December 2020

JAXA announcement – Result of Hayabusa2 re-entry capsule search – with some wonderful images of the re-entry fireball

Hayabusa2 Project mission website

Australian Space Agency YouTube channel