The Hayabusa spacecraft was launched on 9 May 2003 at 04:29:25 UTC on an M-V rocket from the Uchinoura Space Center (still called Kagoshima Space Center at that time). Following launch, the spacecraft's name was changed from the original MUSES-C to Hayabusa, the Japanese word for falcon. The spacecraft's xenon ion engines (four separate units), operating near-continuously for two years, slowly moved Hayabusa toward a September 2005 rendezvous with Itokawa. As it arrived, the spacecraft did not go into orbit around the asteroid, but remained in a station-keeping heliocentric orbit close by.
Hayabusa surveyed the asteroid surface from a distance of about 20 km, (the "gate position"). After this the spacecraft moved closer to the surface (the "home position"), and then approached the asteroid for a series of soft landings and for the collection of samples at a safe site. Autonomous optical navigation was employed extensively during this period because the long communication delay prohibits Earth-based real-time commanding. At the second Hayabusa touchdown with its deployable collection horn, the spacecraft was programmed to fire tiny projectiles at the surface and then collect the resulting spray. Some tiny specks were collected by the spacecraft for analysis back on Earth.
After a few months in proximity to the asteroid, the spacecraft was scheduled to fire its engines to begin its cruise back to Earth. This maneuver was delayed due to problems with attitude control and the thrusters of the craft. Once it was on its return trajectory, the re-entry capsule was released from the main spacecraft three hours before reentry, and the capsule coasted on a ballistic trajectory, re-entering the Earth's atmosphere at 13:51, 13 June 2010 UTC. It is estimated that the capsule experienced peak deceleration of about 25 G and heating rates approximately 30 times those experienced by the Apollo spacecraft. It landed via parachute near Woomera, Australia.
In relation to the mission profile, JAXA defined the following success criteria and corresponding scores for major milestones in the mission prior to the launch of the Hayabusa spacecraft. As it shows, the Hayabusa spacecraft is a platform for testing new technology and the primary objective of the Hayabusa project is the world's first implementation of microwave discharge ion engines. Hence 'operation of ion engines for more than 1000 hours' is an achievement that gives a full score of 100 points, and the rest of the milestones are a series of world's first-time experiments built on it.
|Success Criteria for HAYABUSA||Points||Status|
|Operation of Ion Engines||50 points||Success|
|Operation of Ion Engines for more than 1000 hours||100 points||Success|
|Earth Gravity Assist with Ion Engines||150 points||Success|
|Rendezvous with Itokawa with Autonomous Navigation||200 points||Success|
|Scientific Observation of Itokawa||250 points||Success|
|Touch-down and Sample Collection||275 points||Success|
|Capsule Recovered||400 points||Success|
|Sample obtained for Analysis||500 points||Success|
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