To Woomera and beyond...

Cargo doesn’t get more precious than Itokawa, thought to be the first ever asteroid sample returned to earth when it made its entry via parachute capsule in Woomera, Southern Australia last week.

Following four months of negotiations with the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), specialist aircraft charter and travel company, Hunt&Palmer (Pty) Ltd (Australia), was on hand to ensure the final leg of the asteroid’s journey went without a hitch, delivering the sample via a Global Express aircraft charter to its final destination of Haneda, Japan at 23.29 on 17 June.

The Hayabusa space-craft mission provided new challenges for Hunt&Palmer’s Australia office, with a vast array of licensing approvals required to carry an unknown cargo and doubt over whether the sample would even make it back to earth, with the mission compared to Apollo 13 for the series of technical hitches faced in its seven-year duration.

The Global Express aircraft used to transport the asteroid sample from the restricted military area of Woomera to Haneda, had to be contracted for a seven day period in case the probe did not land inside the pre-determined area within the 127,000 square kilometres of the Woomera Prohibited Area; a landmass roughly the size of England. Teams from NASA, JAXA and the RAAF were all on-hand to monitor the incoming capsule.

Peter Atkinson, Director of Hunt&Palmer (Pty) Ltd, based in Queensland, said “Our involvement with the mission was a test but hugely exciting for our Australia team who worked around the clock and within the restrictions necessitated by such an operation. The data will be studied by scientists from around the globe and pave the way for future missions and it’s fantastic to know that we’ve had a small part to play in its success.”

Posted on Tuesday 22nd June 2010

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