G&H acousto-optic technology launches into space on asteroid probe

JAXA's Hayabusa 2 asteroid probe
JAXA’s Hayabusa 2 asteroid probe

Earlier today, 3 December, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) funded Hayabusa 2 asteroid exploration mission launched on a six year mission to collect geological samples from the (162173) 1999 JU3 asteroid – an Apollo or “near earth” asteroid. The purpose of the mission is to gain an understanding of how our solar system was formed and has grown and how the primary organic materials of life on the Earth were composed and evolved. Gooch & Housego acousto-optic tunable filters (AOTFs) on board the mission are at the heart of the instrument that will enable the spectral analysis of the surface material of the asteroid which in turn will determine its composition.

The mission has three main objectives:

  1. For the probe to establish an orbit around the asteroid and carry out remote sensing observations
  2. To deploy a lander called MASCOT (Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout) to make direct measurements on the asteroid surface
  3. To return to earth with samples of the asteroid.

Once the spacecraft has reached the asteroid it will hurl an impactor into the asteroid and create a crater into which it can deploy MASCOT.

MicrOmega is an infrared spectrometer and the principle instrument on MASCOT and the G&H AOTF is a key component of the instrument. It will enable the spectral analysis of the surface material of the asteroid which in turn will determine its composition. It scans across the infrared spectrum from 0·95µm to 3·65µm and produces a full 3-D image data-cube with 365 spectral channels.

G&H is uniquely qualified to contribute to the Hayabusa 2 project given its experience in working with national and international space agencies. The company’s space heritage has enabled vital contributions to projects such as NASA’s Mars Curiosity and ESA’s SMOS geo-monitoring program.

In this instance G&H’s reputation in acousto-optic technology made it a natural choice of partner for the French institution IAS (Institut d’Astrophysique Spatiale), the Hayabusa 2 project coordinators. Pushing the boundaries of technology in order to develop the best fit solution for specific applications is a routine requirement for G&H. In this instance the need was for controlled solid-state components that are rugged with no moving-parts and are compatible with operation in a vacuum whilst surviving and operating in an extended temperature range.

Rigorous quality-control procedures are essential for the development and manufacture components and assemblies destined to operate in a space environment. G&H has a track record of supplying critical components, assemblies and sub systems to aerospace and defense development programs in addition to space photonics projects. Research and development, design and manufacturing activity across the technologies the company operates with – acousto-optic, electro-optic, fiber-optic and precision optics – have all given the depth of knowledge and experience that enable G&H to make a critical contribution to these programs.