Aerospace assistant professor joins two asteroid exploration missions

By Sylvia Masango and Austin Phillips

Published: Mar 26, 2019 10:55:00 AM

Masatoshi Hirabayashi Masatoshi Hirabayashi

Masatoshi Hirabayashi, assistant professor in aerospace engineering, is part of two on-going asteroid exploration missions — OSIRIS-Rex, a NASA asteroid sample-return mission, and Hayabusa2, a Japanese asteroid sample-return mission. Hirabayashi investigates the geophysical features of these target asteroids.

OSIRIS-REx focuses on the collection of information about asteroid Bennu to gain a better understanding about the history of lives and the solar system. The objectives of the study are to collect organic materials and conduct a detailed analysis of the samples from Bennu, a carbonaceous near-Earth asteroid. Other objectives also include mapping and investigating the mineralogical, geological and geophysical processes and the orbital evolution of this asteroid. Hirabayashi is a collaborator of the Radio Science team on OSIRIS-REx.

“During the operation, OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will land on Bennu and sample materials from the surface then return to Earth with sampled materials,” Hirabayashi said.

Hirabayashi currently serves as a co-investigator of the Optical Navigation Camera team for Hayabusa2, the Japanese asteroid exploration mission. Hayabusa2 focuses on targeting Ryugu — a carbonaceous near-Earth asteroid — to examine the solar system’s evolution and materials of life by returning to Earth with sampled materials.

“OSIRIS-REx and Hayabusa2 overcame many hardships and finally approached their targets,” Hirabayashi said. “They are significantly contributing to both scientific and engineering advances.”

As Hirabayashi explores the shapes of these asteroids, his contributions to both missions have recently been included in a nature astronomy paper from OSIRIS-Rex, and two science journal papers and one Astrophysical Journal Letters paper about Hayabusa2.

In addition, Hirabayashi will host Daniel Scheeres, the A. Richard Seebass Endowed Chair Professor of aerospace engineering sciences at the University of Colorado and a member of the National Academy of Engineering, for a discussion Thursday, April 4, from 9:30-10:45 a.m. in Mell 2550. The discussion, titled “The Future of Asteroid Exploration and the OSIRIS-REx Mission,” is part of the Jack and Ann Waddey Aerospace Engineering Invited Speaker Seminar.

Media Contact: Austin Phillips, austinp@auburn.edu, 334-844-2444

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