Thursday, December 01, 2005

Hayabusa in Trouble?

A few days ago, I reported happily about Hayabusa's visit to an asteroid. Today, there is less happy news; the probe is having engine trouble, apparently is unable to control its attitude, and may not be able to return to Earth as planned. Apparently, there's a good chance that it could come back anyway, four or five years late; they will have to make a decision about whether to continue funding for the project, or cut their losses. (The Hayabusa project home page seems to be several days out of date, in both Japanese and English; how can that be acceptable?)

The Daily Yomiuri article about the problems is extremely critical of JAXA, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. JAXA was just created a couple of years ago by merging two separate agencies, and reportedly factionalism still exists inside the organization. The article ends with rather dour warnings that JAXA needs to do a better job of explaining itself and its research to the public, as well as fix its technical problems.

On a different topic, the article also makes mention of JAXA's successful test of a model for a supersonic jetliner, done in Australia in October. I somehow missed this, but there's a good article at the Register (including links to the flight data at JAXA) and video of the launch at the BBC (in both Windows Media and Real formats, though I swear it looks like somebody videotaped a TV, rather than used an actual feed). The goal is reportedly a 300-seat Mach 2 airliner that's as fuel- and noise-friendly as a current jumbo jet (which is to say, not very, but a heck of a lot better than the Concorde). Unfortunately, they are speculating that it won't fly until 2020 or 2025.

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