NEWS | June 15, 2010

USSTRATCOM unit tracks Hayabusa capsule, furthers international SSA sharing

By U.S. Strategic Command Public Affairs

Photo of the Japanese Hayabusa spacecraft after successful re-entry in the Australian Woomera Prohibited Area.
Photo of the Japanese Hayabusa spacecraft after successful re-entry in the Australian Woomera Prohibited Area
OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. - The Joint Functional Component Command Space (JFCC Space) at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. , a component of United States Strategic Command, collaborated with Air Force Space Command personnel to provide Space Surveillance Network (SSN) support while tracking a Sample Return Capsule (SRC) from the Japanese Hayabusa spacecraft during its successful re-entry in the Australian Woomera Prohibited Area June 13.

A 26-person Joint team contributed to the re-entry operation, which occurred without incident. The Capsule reentered at 8:52 CDT and was subsequently recovered by Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency personnel after landing with the use of a parachute.

The role of JFCC Space in this event was to augment the RAAF's tracking efforts should the Capsule have maneuvered outside the range of Austrailian and Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency radar coverage. The RAAF used redundant tracking methods to ensure the Capsule was visible throughout its journey home, to include Direction Finding Stations, the Woomera Test Range tracking radar, optical observation posts, and a NASA DC-8 aircraft.

Additionally, JFCC Space was asked to provide conjunction assessment to ensure safety of flight for the Hayabusa spacecraft and the other approximately 1,000 active satellites in Earth orbit.
The SRC constitutes the first attempt to return sample material from an asteroid (Itokawa) to Earth.

"The event created dynamic tactics, techniques and procedures, and lessons learned to use for future operations," said Capt Casey Beard, Chief of SSA Operations at JFCC Space's Joint Space Operations Center. Additionally, Capt Beard noted that this event helped further international Space Situational Awareness (SSA) Sharing and showed that cooperation in the space domain ensured the spacecraft reentered without incident. Cooperation here included direct liaison between the Woomera Test Range, the Australian Liaison Officer in USSTRATCOM, NASA, JFCC Space and the Office of Secretary of Defense (OSD).

USSTRATCOM is one of ten U.S. unified commands under the Department of Defense (DOD). The command, including components, employs more than 2,700 people representing all four services including DOD civilians and contractors who oversee the command's operationally focused global strategic mission.