Hayabusa Re-Entry: To Australia

SETI website Chronology and pics

Ben Upcroft's Pics: 1, 2, 3, 4

YouTube video(s) of the Re-Entry

Japanese Popular Movie "Hayabusa" trailer

(Note: below, Chris is Christopher Kitting, Rick is Richard Nolthenius, Julie is Julie Bellerose, Michael is Michael Jokic, Andy is Andy Mezger, Ben is Ben Upcroft)

Below is a photo chronology, and acknowledgments of support at the bottom. All photos mine, except photos from Chris Kitting which are labelled "CK pic".

June 7
I met Chris at his place in Hayward, where we divided up equipment to best advantage for airline checkin. I was going light, mission equipment only (and warm clothes) in order to let Chris use most of my baggage allocation for his astrophotography gear and mission equipment. Tian Yu, one of his grad students, then drove us to SFO for our red eye flight to Adelaide, Australia.

June 9 - Arrive in Adelaide and pick up supplies

Chris and I, waiting for our 11:30pm flight out of SFO

Chris has an enviable talent - the ability to sleep even sitting upright in an economy airline seat. Not me. This double reflection reflects my state of mind, somewhere over the south Pacific after an ~18 hr night.

Sunrise as we approached Sydney

After our Sydney to Adelaide flight, we pick up our 4WD at Europcar...

...and located a cheap motel on the south side of town.Then walked a block to Cole's and picked up supplies.

June 10 - Supplies, Julie, and Head North
Next morning, we got up early to go to Coles for a last chance at more food and supplies (including extra's in case we were stranded in the Outback for an extended period), then picked up Julie at the airport. Alas, her check-in bag was still in Sydney, and it looked like it would be many hours before it arrived. We used the time to drive to the University of South Australia, where Julie had once spent a period of time doing research, and explored the botanic gardens. Returning to the airport, an extremely nice Quantas employee called a friend in Sydney and gotten her bag onto the next flight out - and it had arrived already. Julie rewarded him with a package of Tim Tams (chocolate treats), and we headed north. We took Hwy A1 to Port Augusta, Chris white-knuckled on the steering wheel getting used to driving on the left. No freeways in Adelaide area, so going was a bit slow by California standards. At the Comfort Inn in Port Augusta, we met Paul Maley, who had tales of woe as his two prime video cameras had been confiscated at the airport leaving Texas. We offered possible solutions, but the outcome was going to be... surprising.

June 11,12 - Drive to Woomera, and the Outback

This roadside map, as we headed into the Outback on famed Stuart Hwy shows lots of huge lakes. Don't believe it - they're usually powder dry. Some actually did have an inch or two of water (or mud at least), this being their cold wet season. Where we were headed ultimately is into the big blank area above and far left of Woomera.

Julie, with more experience driving in this inverted country, happily took over driving duties. I stayed as navigator, and Chris took the back seat where he could strategize and sleep.

Typical Outback on the way to Woomera, and one of those damp lakes. Near here I saw a "mob" of kangaroos, and later another mob of emu's, but wasn't quick enough on the camera


At Woomera we had a safety briefing from the range commander about the dangers in the Outback where we were going. These included the poisonous red-back spiders, nasty snakes, and assorted old ordnance. We also met our Aussie compadres from Queensland up north. This photo, composed by Chris (left), was outside the Defense meeting hall. I'm kneeling, Isolde stands at center. Others are more airy.

We gratefully accepted from the Queensland gang three sleeping bags and two tents for our stay in the Outback. At this point, the ground teams split into the northern group, heading to Coober Pedy, and the southern group - our SETI/NASA trio and Michael, Razmi and Ben from Queensland, and Andy from Germany. Then, we all headed down the road 6 km to Spuds Road House for lunch

At Spud's Roadhouse - Standing; Chris and Julie. Clockwise around the table starting with Kelly Beatty (back to camera), Michael Jokic, Andy, Yannis Karavas (from the Clay Observatory, as is Kelly), Razmi, and Ben Upcroft.

The ceremonial disinflation of the tires in Glendambo - from here on, we'll be on dirt roads

We were very thorough in our packing - nothing of any POSSIBLE use was left behind. Carving out a place for a non-driver or two was always an interesting challenge.

Prospering out here (surviving, even) isn't easy.

Kingoonya was the biggest town (of the two) on our route: It actually has a single business still operating - a pub (this cafe was not it).

The Aussie's - we ate their dust on the way to Tarcoola

I'd selected a site just outside Tarcoola, with a low NW horizon, on a spur dirt path near the railroad line. We quickly set up in the fading light, and Chris and I did some shooting of the southern stars. This one shows Venus in the zodiacal light

The Magellanic Clouds, the Southern Cross and "coal sack" on the right, and the tent Chris and I shared, with Chris working at his equipment. Red glow on the right is the dreaded amp glow from my Nikon D40. I used "incandescent" white balance to minimize, but the rest of the image is then a bit blue.

Chris' wide angle shot of the Milky Way with his D300. No amp glow here, the right white balance, and a gorgeous shot.

Being next to the railroad, we actually had cell phone and therefore internet access. Razmi and Julie here testing out the internet connection.

Two big gel cells powering the desktop computer used for the robotics. At right is Andy's telescope and rifle crosshair finder scope. Julie's still on that laptop.

Sagittarius star cloud and eucalyptus tree, with D40 and 50mm f/1.8 lens.

Nikon D40 shot of the central bulge of the Milky Way, using 18-200mm zoom lens at f/3.5

A relaxing moment the next day re-reading my favorite book - "The Snow Leopard" by Peter Mathiessen. I have a tradition of bringing this book on far-flung travel adventures

We had some spare time June 12 and drove into Tarcoola to see if we could find the Japanese team rumored to be nearby, and generally explore.

The pair on the left were railroad workers passing through. Tiny Tarcoola has only two residents - a woman and her daughter who are "right good" at diesel locomotive repair. And a paved road! (well, paved for about 100 yards).

A rare bit of intense color in a tan landscape

Tarcoola was built for this old gold mine, shut down years ago. Sounds like a good place to explore...

At over $1,000 an ounce, I can't help wondering how much gold is still left in there...

Is this old window trying to say something?

Me, Julie, Michael, Ben, Razmi, Andy, at the gold mine

Farewell to the gold mine, and back to work.

We all spent quite a lot of time using the generator charging up our dozens of batteries; gel cells, LiIon's, NiMH's, etc. Andy's doing some work on his laptop too.

June 12 was cloudy until late. I made a campfire which we enjoyed till skies cleared. Julie is still on that laptop... she had an important proposal for a future NASA mission due soon.

Campfire smoke, and stars

Chris' beautiful fisheye lens rendition of the southern sky . 180-degree lens. 4 minutes on the clock drive. Nik D700 + 16mm fisheye lens (CK pic)

Skies cleared and back to work. My setup, before re-working it on D-day. Video headset from Peter was essential to the plan (CK pic)

June 13: Re-Entry Day

Observing site for Chris, Julie and I (who set up in a tight parallel to the path so as not to interfere with each other's wide sweep tracking): Latitude: 30 degrees 42.923 South, Longitude: 134 degrees 27.618’ East, 35 m elevation

Next morning, more charging...

My final setup - I found and positioned some big rocks to elevate my suitcase as a table platform well above the dust and dirt and within reach for me to be able to stand during re-entry. Finding enough rocks for the job was a challenge in this flat landscape.

Ben tapped into the satellite weather forecast for tonight.

"These clouds should clear ...except, what about this little one here...


...which is predicted to stay for most of the night - sitting right on top of Glendambo east of us?"

After TCM4 (4th trajectory control maneuver) two days earlier, we were waiting patiently for the final spreadsheet on re-entry. Thank God for internet connections out here! It finally came in our email mid-afternoon. I plugged in our coordinates and began work on producing deep star charts of the re-entry track from the output

Let's see - at 91km altitude, I calculate the spacecraft is 313km distant from our coordinates. If the capsule is 2km ahead of the spacecraft, the sky-projected separation is 10 arcmin, should just be separable at the magnification of Julie and my video systems, and easy for Chris. This should work!

I hand-made trajectoris onto star charts I'd made at home, from software ("computer aided astronomy" C2A). I made different zoomed versions for each of our team and explained the where, when, and what.

A couple weeks after the mission, Jim Albers integrated other software to produce star charts with the re-entry track for our location, including higher resolution versions (the jpg'd wide field version shown here)

Chris explains the importance of silence after re-entry, to record the sonic effects. The deep cycle gel cells to run the Aussie's computers and robotics just couldn't supply enough power for enough time, and they needed to run the generator during re-entry. So it was decided they'd situate a km away.

Chris' setup (self portrait)

A nice sunset as the last of the clouds evaporate and a cold night begins. Re-entry is just before local midnight

Before sunset, Bill Dolson, pro videographer, and his wife Isolde arrived. We briefed them on the setups, advised on where he should position himself and where in the sky the re-entry would begin and trace across the sky.

Chris makes final prep's for an ambitious program of video, low-res spectra, and stills on two platforms.

My setup was lightweight and compact; 55mm f/1.2 lens (thanks Chris!) on PC164C video camera with 600 lines/mm transmission grating, guided by hand using PC 164Cex2 with 12mm lens feeding a video headset, offset by 28 deg to center the first-order spectrum on the 777nm Oxygen I emission line

Julie used a fast lens feeding an I3 image intensifier, whose back plate was then imaged by a Hi8 video recorder. She reached below 8th magnitude and got very early capsule acquisition, after having me help her get aimed precisely and listening to my countdown

The Hayabusa spacecraft disintegrates from the pressure and heat. From CK's capture of Julie's video, 8 degrees wide

The payload capsule, protected by its heatshield, is below and right of the remnants of toasted spacecraft

A frame from Kitting's "night shot" HD video. 12 degrees wide

We'd done a final synchronization of everyone's watches during the day. After twilight, I used Venus to practice getting spectra placed properly on the imaging chip. We all practiced, thought carefully about what our sequence would be, mentally and mechanically prepared, as the time neared. I did final angle offset by using Arcturus (V=0.0 and a little above the limiting magnitude for hi res spectra) to a point midway between Mu Virginis and Beta Libra in order to get the spectra to orient perpendicular to the spacecraft/capsule axis so there'd be no interference. Temperatures were near record lows, hovering just barely above freezing. Cold enough for dew to begin forming. No wind. With the Aussies using the generator to power their gear, the gel cells were available and Chris and I each took one for powering our 12VDC air blowers to fighting dew. At T-1hr, I was as ready as could be, and placed the 8xD-cell power supply I'd constructed under my down jacket, covered the grating against dew, brought the front lens under my jacket, and went into the tent to lay down and mentally prepare. At 15 minutes to go, I got myself to my station, set up my tripod Nikon D40, got my video goggles on, ran the dew heater on my equipment, and made sure all wiring from my jacket-protected power supply and video goggles would not snag on anything as I tracked the re-entry across the sky. I started a countdown at 5 minutes. We expected to see rapid brightening to visibility when the re-entry reached 91km altitude at 11:52:00UT. But with Julie's high sensitivity and excellent pointing, she excitedly said "I see it!" a full 13 seconds earlier. The brightening did not reach my limiting magnitude until just before 11:52:00. I tracked well, as practice in Santa Cruz paid off, and the tripod was smooth. It got MUCH brighter than we had expected, perhaps reaching V of -7 or so (? a wild guess since I saw it only on video goggles and reflected ground light, peripherally). Julie exclaimed "it's beautiful!" and then after more than a minute, in the most adorable crest-fallen French-Canadian accent "...I don't see it any more...". But she had recorded the entire track on her I3 intensifier screen for over 1 minute - longer than we'd expected. Great work, Julie!

Chris got some good footage on his HD imaging gear. The Aussies and Andy did very well, as their robotic tracker succeeded, and Andy had success getting spectra using his gun-sighted telescope setup. Unfortunately, the camcorder showed it was recording, but it in fact did not, despite successful tests. Chris and I believe the cold and humidity this record-breaking cold night, had, just before taping began, as it was cooling, put the ZR45mc into an "alterted state". In all tests, the camcorder gives an on-screen error message when the tape heads are dirty, or no display at all if power fails. In this case, the LCD display showed the video camera's view just as if all was well. And no error messages. But no recording. Luckily, the Aussies and Andy a short distance away did get spectrophotometry. So my own contribution in the end was, as the astronomer of the team, supplying everyone accurate last-minute charts, timelines for where/when to do their data taking, and personal constellation orientations under the night sky. And, later, broadband photometric reductions from Julie's record. I'll take comfort in that, till next time. Julie was the hero of the California half of our team! We listened for the sonic boom and it arrived at 11:57:00UT, 5 minutes after re-entry. Chris took deep photos minutes after re-entry to see if any long-lasting trail remained, but there was no trace.

I did some post-mission testing and calibrations at home to determine how reliably hand-guiding with this setup could put a given spectral line on the recording chip during tracking across the sky at re-entry speeds. The figure I came up with was 95% of the frames would contain the spectral line for a 50mm lens, and about 90% or more for Chris K's 55mm Nikon lens which was the actual lens I used on the mission. This confirms the feasibility of hand guiding, given adequate practice and a good smooth tripod.

Chris stitched together two of Julie's video frames (with slight angle offset) to make this image. The capsule trajectory was leading and below the spacecraft debris, and thankfully the heat shield stayed nicely together during re-entry.

Our team around a warm fire. Julie flashes the "V for Victory" sign.

The Aussies join us, under a beautiful sky

Before sunrise. That leaning lump on the left is me, with bino's (CK pic through dewy lens)

"Before Sunrise" - the movie! Julie Delpy is a dead ringer for our Julie, no? Ethan Hawke thinks so.

The morning after. Note my aboriginal-style suitcase stand and graveyard of dead batteries. The cold weather worked our batteries pretty hard.

Chris' well-equipped site, just before takedown

June 14; Back to Woomera

We packed up camp as quickly as we could, and drove the 114km of dirt road back to Stuart Hwy at Glendambo, then south to Woomera for a post-mission data backup session. The Eldo Hotel graciously allowed us use of their lobby for this meeting. We brought a portable hard drive and Chris was in charge of backing up all images from the California and Queensland teams videos and stills. Turns out Paul Maley, stationed in Coober Pedy just north of the track, actually located a bizarre place underground which had an old box full of stuff, including two old low-light level video cameras to replace the ones confiscated at the Texas border - what are the odds? In general, the Coober Pedy group did very well; temperatures were warmer than for our remotely stationed group, and they set up on the tarmac of the tiny airport, which likely also helped keep temperatures above the dew point.

Paul Maley and Chris

Beautiful video footage of the disintegrating spacecraft and the intact capsule ("star" above and left of debris trail)

Carolyn and Paul converting Paul's camcorder miniDV footage on the computer

Afterwards, our funding situation only allowed us to check in to the local budget motel. But it had the essentials...

...like insulation

...modern plumbing fixtures

...and natural landscaping

but as always... no worries, mate!

Woomera Observatory showed us great hospitality on a cloudy night.

June 15 Sightseeing in the Outback
The science being pretty much wrapped up, and Julie had 2 days before her return flight from Adelaide, we decided to spend today exploring some of the backroads deeper into the Outback northeast of Woomera. Andamooka is a tiny town which is the heart of the opal mining area of central Australia, and beyond that is the edge of Lake Torrens National Park, a vast lake which last had water 150 years ago, but still gets muddy every winter.


Next morning, we satisfy our internet needs at the post office, then plan a day of exploring the opal mines of Andamooka and Lake Torrens

Our trio, outside the bizarre bottle room in Andamooka


... it took a lot of emptied beer bottles to build this. But Aussie's excel at this, I've heard

Interior of a hundred year old opal prospector's place

Chris and Julie drive a hard bargain for some raw opals at...

...Long Bus - which seems to define Andamooka


20 miles down a rough dirt road, we find a stream cut with fossilized ancient shoreline sands - just the kind of place you might expect to find fossil footprints.

We drive another few clicks to the edge of Lake Torrens - the second largest lake in Australia, and 5 times the area of Lake Tahoe. But dry. We three look off to the vastness here.

Is that the far shore, or a mirage of a far shore? Lake Torrens is part of an ancient tectonic spreading zone, and Australia being the oldest continent, is worn quite FLAT, especially here.

For a National Park, I thought the welcome sign at the end of the entrance (dirt) road was... refreshingly unpretentious.

A huge lake, this stream makes some small pools where it enters; the only water we see.

A gorgeous Australian sunset graced our drive back to Andamooka


Poking around an old opal prospect outside Andamooka

A spooky cemetary on the hill outside this very strange town. A resident in Woomera had told us "It's the most random place you'll ever see".

Next morning at sunrise back in Woomera, Julie and I did a 20 minute run before breakfast

June 16 - Exploring the Flinders Range and wine country.
Julie's flight was early in the morning on the 17th. We had a full day for a leisurely drive back to Adelaide, exploring the Flinders Range and the Clare Valley towns of the wine country.

Picnic lunch at Mt. Remarkable National Park - which was remarkably empty of people. We saw only one other car, and no one on the trails.


Alligator Gorge, in Mt. Remarkable National Park, reminded us of slot canyon country in Utah

Kangaroos at Mt. Remarkable

On south, to the wine country. Chris and Julie sample a nice white wine at the tiny community of Stone Hut

Trend. The last small, independent bottler in Australia, is housed in this unpretenious little building. Their sparkling honey wine was excellent. I tried to get a bottle home, but it was confiscated at the airport (hope the security guy enjoyed it)

Back at our fav motel in Adelaide. I fixed a tastey dinner. Julie continued work on a funding proposal for a new space mission. We slept early...

June 17 - Bon Voyage to Julie
We drove Julie to the airport for her dawn flight home, then explored local marine life on beaches, starting with the rocky coast south of Adelaide, and then on north. Our goal was the York Peninsula, where Chris wanted to see some more pristine coastline which was recommended by the local dive shop. And, on the way, camp at a dark location for our last night of astrophotography, with a prime goal to obtain a spectrum of the bright southern hemisphere Wolf-Rayet star Gamma Velorum as an emission line test of the spectragraph. We drove to Port Augusta, then found a campsite a few miles beyond, at the top of the York Peninsula. A storm system had come through the previous night, and today was a cold, passing-showers kind of day and night. We did get some nice stretches of clear sky, but also rain drops. Chris photographed, and I photographed too, but mostly read "The Snow Leopard" under my mosquito net...

...for a 3:30am wake-up to get to the airport.

After Julie's bon voyage...

...Chris and I explored marine life along Adelaide's beaches. Here, the beaches were littered with cuddlefish bone.

The mosquito net was essential, but awkward. Note the raindrops on the sleeping pad.

The prime goal for tonight's astrophotography was obtaining this spectrum of the rare Wolf-Rayet type star Gamma Velorum, using a Rainbow Optics spectroscope kindly loaned from M. Halberg of the East Bay Astronomical Society. 1 min exposure, with passing clouds.

Milky Way with my 18-200mm zoom at 18mm. Red amp glow on the right side. Tracking done on Chris' equatorial mount.

The Large Magellanic Cloud, with white balance set on "incandescent" to minimize amp glow (This white balance shifts towards the blue and so the red amp glow is lessened).

Our campspot was on a lagoon, colonized with an interesting non-tropical species of mangrove

Chris and I photographed a glorious sunrise over the lagoon

Our 4WD had inscrutable logic as to when it would turn off the interior lights - rules which we two PhD's could never decipher, try as we might. Result: a dead battery by morning.

June 18: York Peninsula, and the Journey Home
After morning pictures at the lagoon, we headed south to search for a nice beach on which to sample the marine life, and take a snooze (having been up all night photographing and trying to re-align our bio-clocks to California time). The coastline was beautiful, with farmland and grazing, and tiny towns like Clinton, Price, Ardrossan, no bigger than a square kilometer. Something like California in the 1930's perhaps, except blessedly free of tourist trappings. Quiet and inviting.

The town of Clinton

May look like a Corona beer commercial, with the ambience as well. Chris and I had lunch on a deserted beach at Ardrossan, and Chris photo'd and sampled the abundant seagrass in the tidal zone. Seagrass is an indicator species and its abundance down here, and near-disappearance in the SF Bay area, is sadly significant.

The University of South Australia and the University of Adelaide are side-by-side making it the most beautiful neighborhood of Adelaide

This University of Adelaide museum, which closed MOMENTS before we arrived, contains some of the oldest pre-Cambrian fossils anywhere

The University of Adelaide Observatory

June 19 - The Flight Home
Our flight left late morning of June 19. Thanks to crossing the international date line, we actually arrived in SFO nominally before we left, early morning June 19.

One last moment on the web, at the airport

dawn, west of SFO


Article on the U. Queensland group, from University of Queensland.

"Good Times Weekly" interview of Nolthenius

CSUEB article on Chris Kitting and Hayabusa

Our Poster Paper presented at the March 2011 Workshop on Hypersonics in Australia


We are grateful to all who made this ground mission possible, including the team of scientists at our Tarcoola (west) site, from six countries. Particular thanks go to
- Dr. Peter Jenniskens, SETI/NASA, excelled as Chief Scientist of NASA's portion of this Hyabusa Reentry Mission, and for the use of some some equipment by Nolthenius, Kitting and Bellerose.
- Jim Albers, who provided trajectory predictions and updates.
- Dr. Michael Jokic and Carolyn Jacobs and colleagues from Dr. David Buttsworth’s labs at Univ. Queensland and Univ. South Queensland, Australia, who kindly provided valuable assistance with field gear and field logistics.
- Woomera Missile Test Range kindly provided access to the Outback on their range, and safety briefings.
- Woomera Observatory kindly hosted an impromptu reception for some of us, two days after public viewing of the reentry.
- Terry Smith and his CSUEB Media Lab staff provided some advice and testing of equipment.
- Michael Winter kindly provided assistance with spectral lamps and calibrations.
- Bill Roan, CSU East Bay, assisted with equipment modifications.
- Jack Sullins and Maggie Halberg provided equipment fabrication and loaned equipment.
- Tom Trumbull of Plantronics Corp, for power supply advice
- Eldo Hotel, Woomera, South Australia, provided space for data compilation and backup.
- Cabrillo College Observatory, for use of certain equipment

Partial travel fund support is gratefully acknowledged from:
- Carnegie Melon University (for Julie Bellerose)
- Dave Schwartz and Christy Vogel of the Cabrillo College Natural and Applied Sciences Division (for Richard Nolthenius)
- Michael Leung, Dean of Sciences, California State University East Bay, and Mike Hedrick, Chair of Biological Sciences, CSUEB (for Chris Kitting).
- Mohammed Ali, at the Physics Shop, assisted with equipment modifications.

Major mission support came from International Space Agencies and private donations, including those through CSUEB College of Science Leadership Fund, and personal funds.

Thank you to all.