NASA Aircraft Videos Hayabusa Re-Entry

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Just in case you thought the re-entry of the Japanese Hayabusa spacecraft couldn’t get any better, NASA has just released an aerial video of the speeding sample return capsule followed by the break-up of the rest of the probe as the whole lot tumbled through the Earth’s atmosphere.

SLIDE SHOW: Hayabusa: A 7-Year Asteroid Odyssey

“We could see the little sample return capsule separate from the main ship and lead its way in; and just had this magnificent display of the break-up of Hayabusa,” Trevor Ireland, from the Australian National University, told the BBC.

The video was taken by NASA’s highly modified McDonnell Douglas DC-8 jetliner that was flying above Australia as Hayabusa re-entered. Zooming in on the brightening dot, scientists aboard the flying laboratory captured the sparkling break-up of Hayabusa while also tracking the sample return capsule speed ahead.

Take a look at the YouTube video copied from the original:

There’s more good news. According to JAXA, the sample return capsule has been found.

On the UK’s BBC News 24, scientists are reporting that the capsule is “in good shape,” but they won’t be able to move it until the morning as it is too dangerous to land the transport helicopter in the landing zone at night.

Presumably, the capsule’s parachute operated as expected, allowing the capsule (hopefully containing the precious asteroid dust) to land safely in the Australian Outback.

Thanks to @amoroso for the tip!