One year – so long the Japanese space probe had to return to Earth. But Hayabusa-2 has been in space for much longer. It was launched on December 3, 2014 after several months of testing by the Aero-space Exploration Agency of Japan.
After six years of the mission, she has just landed in the southern desert of Australia, reports The Guardian.
People returned to the site of the probe operation under the supervision of scientists. When Hayabusa-2 touched the Earth, they rejoiced and celebrated. “Hayabusa-2 looked like a fireball, it looked like a star that fell to Earth,” describes The Guardian.
“Mechanical fleas” in space
The purpose of the mission? Check out the small (only 900 m in diameter) asteroid Ryugu, which was discovered relatively recently, in 1999. It belongs to the group of asteroids Apollo, whose average distance from the Sun is slightly larger than Earth, but whose orbit intersects with the orbit of our planet. Ryugu is currently on the opposite side of the Sun from Earth, almost 300 million km apart.
Hayabus’ task was to take asteroid samples and deliver them to Earth. She collected data and photos using “mechanical fleas”, mobile robots that jumped over Ryugu’s surface. They are difficult to call rovers because they do not have wheels or tracks. This technique is due to the fact that the asteroid is small and has an insignificant field of gravity. The twin “mechanical fleas” are called MINERVA-II1A and MINERVA-II1B, meaning “Micro Nano experimental robotic vehicle for an asteroid”. They are small, 18 cm to 7 cm in size and weigh only 1 kg. On the asteroid’s surface, they weigh about a quarter of a gram. These are the first mobile robots on an asteroid.
The samples were taken from the dust generated by the launch of the projectile into the asteroid. The Japanese hoped that Hayabusa-2 would collect about 10 grams of the substance in this way.
Scientists will now deal with space material. The samples are designed to help answer the basic questions about where life came from and how the universe came into being.