The Japanese spaceship Hayabusa 2 is almost at home, with precious cargo on board! The sample return mission departed the asteroid Ryugu (162173 Ryugu) a little over a year ago, with soil samples and data that could provide clues to the early days of our solar system. On 6 December 2020, the sample return container must land in the Australian outback.
“Organic materials come from life on Earth, but we still don’t know where they came from,” Makoto Yoshikawa, head of the Hayabusa 2 mission, told a news briefing. “We hope to find clues to the origin of life on Earth by analyzing details of the organic materials returned from Hayabusa 2.”
Japan’s JAXA space agency said the capsule containing the samples was to land in the Woomera restricted area in Australia, a limited military range of about 122,000 square kilometers, located about 450 km northwest of Adelaide. JAXA’s YouTube will have live broadcasts of the event.
On November 25, the Hayabusa 2 team received permission from Australia to re-enter orbit. They conducted a trajectory adjustment maneuver on November 26 to place the spacecraft in the correct entry corridor.
The spacecraft will drop the capsule containing the samples at a distance of about 220,000 km (136,700 miles) from Earth. The capsule is quite small, only about 40 cm (15 inches) in diameter. A heat shield will protect the capsule during its fiery immersion through our atmosphere. When the capsule reaches an altitude of about six miles above the ground, a parachute will open, which will allow – hopefully – a soft landing. A beacon will be activated to transmit the location of the capsule and multiple receivers are set up around the target area to retrieve these signals. Radars, unmanned aerial vehicles and helicopters will be ready to assist in the search and retrieval.
Without these measures, finding the small capsule “would be extremely difficult,” Yoshikawa said.
Below is the schedule of events as of 30.11.20. Japanese Standard Time (JST) is UTC +9. If you happen to live in Australia, here’s information on how you can see the capsule fall.
Hayabusa 2 launched in December 2014 and arrived in Ryugu in mid-2018. The German-built MASCOT perch collected samples from Ryugu in February and July 2019, storing each sample in separate chambers. The mission team said it believed at least 300 milligrams of material had been collected and probably more.
For the Hayabusa 2 spacecraft, this is not the end of the mission. After dropping the capsule, it will head to another distant small asteroid called 1998KY26, and the journey will take 10 years.
Materials for the press from a briefing from 30.11.20
Scientists will compare the chemical composition of the samples with the rocks of the Earth and the Moon, trying to understand factors of the Earth’s origin, such as whether asteroids played a role in bringing water to Earth.
Meanwhile, the Hayabusa 2 spacecraft will pass by Earth and move on to a new mission. He will head to another distant small asteroid, called 1998KY26, on a journey that should take 10 years.