Open Access

Japanese contribution to in-situ meteoroid and debris measurement in the near Earth space

Earth, Planets and Space201451:BF03351597

DOI: 10.1186/BF03351597

Received: 8 October 1998

Accepted: 27 March 1999

Published: 20 June 2014


This paper reviews major results of present studies and recent developments for future missions in the Japanese space program regarding in-situ measurement and collection of micrometeoroids and orbital debris in the near Earth space. Japan’s contribution in this area began with the post flight impact analysis of the Space Flyer Unit (SFU) satellite which was returned to Earth in 1996 after 10-month exposure in space. Despite a decade later than similar efforts first conducted in the USA and Europe, it resulted in a record of over 700 hypervelocity impact signatures, which now forms the nation’s first database of real space impacts being open to public in the Internet. Together with laboratory impact tests, both morphological and elemental analyses of the impact craters yielded new insights of the meteoroid to debris ratio as well as flux variation compared with the previous spacecraft. The next step was a passive aerogel exposure in the STS-85 shuttle mission in 1997. No hypervelocity impact was found there but its experience has been incorporated for designing a microparticle collector to be on-board the Japan Experiment Module-Exposed Facility of the International Space Station. All of such “passive” collection of micro-impact features, however, still leave the significant uncertainty in the quest of their origins. Therefore an aerogel-based “hybrid” dust collector and detector (HD-CAD) is currently under the development. It measures time of impact and deduces impactors’ orbital and physical parameters by detecting impact flash while still capturing them intact. The system is suitable for both (1) sample return missions in LEO as well as to parent bodies of meteoroids, i.e., comets and asteroids, and (2) one-way mission to where the thermal and plasma environment is such that impact induced plasma detectors may suffer from significant noise, e.g., a Mercury orbiter and a solar probe. Together with unambiguous dust samples from a comet by STARDUST and an asteroid by MUSES-C as references, the HD-CAD in the LEO will be able to deduce the accretion rates of the cometary and asteroidal dust grains on the Earth.