In November 2010, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) began to unravel the mysteries of space and opened the door to a new future. Particles brought back to earth by the asteroid explorer Hayabusa were identified as extraterrestrial materials originating from the asteroid Itokawa. One group that celebrated this outstanding achievement with a genuine sense of pride were the members of the Hitachi High-Tech project team that built the Curation Center* used to analyze the particles at JAXA's Sagamihara Campus.
* The facility responsible for handling, processing, and storing samples collected by Hayabusa
Analysis of particles successfully collected by Hayabusa and work behind the scenes
The other project team eagerly awaiting the return of Hayabusa
Hitachi High-Technologies Corporation
Hiroshi Ohki, Ph.D.
Corporate Chief Engineer
The curation process was made possible thanks to Hitachi High-Technologies (Hitachi High-Tech), which has its headquarters in Tokyo. Drawing on its advanced technical and solution capabilities, Hitachi High-Tech responded to JAXA's strict specifications for the uniquely cutting edge Hayabusa Project by providing a uniquely cutting edge curation environment.
“Having received academic guidance from experts at JAXA, we handled everything from the development to manufacture of the curation equipment in our capacity as the lead engineering company,” explains Hitachi High-Tech's Hiroshi Ohki. “Based on a precise understanding of JAXA's needs, we successfully completed the project by harnessing synergy between numerous group companies, including Hitachi Central Research Laboratory, which helped tackle a number of advanced world-first technical issues, and Hitachi Plant Technologies, which used its wealth of experience in the semiconductor sector and top class technical capabilities to design the clean room.”
JAXA's top priority was to create a controllable working environment that would be capable of conclusively identifying whether the collected particles were from Itokawa, terrestrial, or manmade at every stage of the curation process. Its second priority was to control that environment so as to prevent any alteration to the particles, as a result of oxidation on contact with the earth's atmosphere for instance. Its third priority was to ensure that all equipment could be reliably operated 24 hours a day. The whole process would be a race against time. Any problems could have potentially put the precious cargo at risk, after spending nine years bringing it back to earth for the benefit of mankind.
The project team's solution, as mentioned previously, was to set up a clean room measuring approximately 200m² (about 2,100 sq ft) in order to collect and analyze the 10Ám particles and to install monitoring equipment to check for impurities. Hitachi High-Tech's advanced solution-based technical capabilities also paved the way for other equipment, including the clean chamber used to control levels of high purity nitrogen gas and the field emission scanning electron microscope (FE-SEM) used to control the high purity nitrogen gas atmosphere.
Mr. Ohki explains, “The company's executives made a bold decision to ensure that we didn't let this opportunity pass us by. That definitely gave the project a boost. Whenever you take on the challenge of something new, or something unprecedented, it is inevitable that you will encounter difficulties and end up getting burnt. You've got to take on such challenges however, if you want to make progress. It is that process of trial and error that paves the way for great results further down the line. We are determined to do our duty as a manufacturing company, regardless of the risks. This project really made me appreciate our executives' high level of awareness and outstanding foresight in terms of technical management.”
Members of the project team were thrilled when Hayabusa returned to earth. Mr. Ohki adds, “As long as it actually returned, then it would be our turn in the spotlight, assisting with the collection and analysis of the Itokawa particles. Researchers from JAXA had run meticulous simulations, so we had faith that, as long as Hayabusa managed to touch down on Itokawa, then it would definitely get the particles. We were anxious but at the same time hopeful. I feel proud that the Hitachi Group was involved in such a historical project.”
Supporting Japanese science and technology through measurement-based solutions
Hitachi High-Tech lived up to JAXA's expectations and provided reliable support for the curation process. The company's time to shine however could still lie ahead.
Initial analysis* of the Itokawa particles is underway at research facilities throughout Japan, from Hokkaido in the north to Kyushu in the south. Organizations such as NASA (US National Aeronautics and Space Administration) and the ANU (Australian National University) have started to carry out research too. The first results were unveiled on March 10, during a special session of the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Texas. As the world's largest international conference for specialists in planetary exploration, the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference has been a source of great excitement ever since Apollo 11 first brought back rocks from the moon.
In an effort to make use of and expand upon the technical expertise gained from Hayabusa, a new project has been launched called Hayabusa 2. The aim is to head for a celestial body that is even more primordial than Itokawa. Researchers are planning to examine how asteroidal minerals, water, and organic matter interact and coexist with one another and to identify any correlation with our own planet, the seas, and life on earth.
This is a field in which Hitachi High-Tech's measurement-based solution capabilities are set to play an important role, both now and in the future. Measurement also includes processes such as observation and analysis and is one of the most basic aspects of technology, underpinning scientific and technological development. Measurement technology is the vitally important first step in research, enabling researchers to determine the structure, composition, and properties of whatever they are studying. For researchers searching for the truth through experimental science, it would be fair to say that measurement is everything.
In this instance, the first step in analyzing the Itokawa particles was to observe the shape of the particles using a Hitachi High-Tech S-4300SE/N electron microscope and to carry out elemental analysis of the particles using the microscope's built-in EDS (energy dispersive x-ray spectrometry) x-ray analyzer. These analysis results were used to determine that the particles were from Itokawa. Ongoing advances in measurement technology over the course of the nine years from devising the curation equipment to actually taking measurements were also reflected in analysis of the Itokawa particles. This speaks volumes about the never-ending progress of science and technology and the outstanding caliber of those who work day and night to make that progress possible.
With continuing advances in science and technology, Hitachi High-Tech's specialist measurement-based solution capabilities are likely to become increasingly important in the future, and not only in the field of space exploration. One of the essential components of science and technology in the 21st century could well be “integrated measurement technology,” as typified by the integration of nano-devices into the fields of biotechnology and medical science. If that happens, Hitachi High-Tech will be able to combine its electronic measurement solutions, developed for equipment such as semiconductors and liquid crystal manufacturing systems, and life science measurement solutions, developed for equipment such as chemical or immunological auto-analyzers and DNA sequencers, thereby opening up an even wider arena in which to excel. Hitachi High-Tech will be able to provide customers all over the world with such solutions, while at the same time identifying cutting-edge needs directly from cutting-edge customers.
This will all be underpinned by the company's sales and service division, which has access to a sales and service network as powerful as any dedicated technology trading company. Thanks to its technology team, which has already achieved a number of world-firsts and developed world-leading technologies, and its sales and service team, Hitachi High-Tech can be expected to keep on producing results on a par with its Itokawa particle analysis solution in the future. With more and more opportunities for young people to make their mark these days, Hitachi High-Tech's solution capabilities look set to shine brighter than ever before.
* Initial analysis refers to the analytical part of the curation process concerned with obtaining information to assist with cataloging (identifying, classifying, and numbering) representative samples.
- A high-tech product in the spotlight
Learn more about the S-5500
- Hitachi High-Tech receives certificate from the Minister of State for Space Development and Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology for its contribution to JAXA's Hayabusa Project
The presentation ceremony
Tsutomu Tanaka (left)
Mikio takagi (right)
Science Systems Sales Dept.2
Science Systems Sales & Marketing Div.
Science & Medical Systems Business Group
On December 2, 2010, Hitachi High-Tech was presented with a certificate of appreciation by the Minister of State for Space Development Banri Kaieda and Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Yoshiaki Takaki as part of a ceremony in Tokyo organized by the Cabinet Office in recognition of all those who contributed to the success of the Hayabusa Project. The certificate was presented to Hitachi High-Tech for meeting JAXA's strict specifications, for designing and installing the curation equipment, and for enabling the samples to be safely and successfully collected.
Taken from An Introduction to High Technology for an Insight into Trends in the electronic version of the Nikkei newspaper in April 2011.