Mission Hayabusa2: The capsule with asteroid samples returns to Earth
Japan’s Hayabusa2 space probe has successfully completed a mission to the asteroid Ryugu and sent a sample of the capsule to Earth. The Japanese space agency Jaxa announced on Sunday morning (local time) that the helicopter had found a small container in the landing area, the Woomera space test site in the desert of southern Australia. Researchers expect the container to contain 4.6 billion-year-old material from the asteroid Ryugu, which originated in the early days of the solar system.
(sda / dpa)
After recovery, the condition of the capsule is checked first. The samples are then transported to a sealed aircraft landing capsule in Japan, where they are delivered to a laboratory at the Jaxa Research Center (ISAS) in Sagamihar, near Tokyo. Only then is the space-loaded capsule opened by a robot in a so-called clean room laboratory in a vacuum chamber.
First, individual sample components are processed and described before microscopic, mineralogical, and geochemical studies begin in mid-2021. Scientists hope to trace the origin and life of the solar system on Earth by analyzing samples. The samples could possibly contain organic material, said Makoto Yoshikawa, head of the mission. The main focus is on amino acids, which are the basic elements of life.
The Ryugu asteroid is particularly rich in carbon and is one of the asteroids near Earth. Such asteroids could also bring water to our planet when they reached Earth. In 2010, the previous Hayabusa (peregrine falcon) probe brought soil samples from an asteroid to Earth for the first time.
The successor, Hayabusa 2, took off from Japan in December 2014 and reached its destination 300 million kilometers after almost four years. The probe later landed on Ryuga and collected samples from the surface and for the first time from an area below the surface of such an asteroid. Both asteroid soil samples were placed in separate chambers of the capsule.
The German Aerospace Center (DLR) also took part in an impressive mission with the Mascot landing craft developed by the French space agency CNES. It landed on the asteroid Ryugu in October 2018 and explored it until its battery discharged. “This is a historic moment for space exploration,” said Dke’s CEO Anke Kaysser-Pyzalla about the impressive return of the sample capsule.
Hayabusa2 separated the capsule by flying along the ground. Upon entering the earth’s atmosphere, the capsule became a ball of fire. It was slowed by the air shell as the heat developed to about 3,000 degrees Celsius. A parachute was then placed about ten kilometers above Australia, on which the capsule floated to the ground and transmitted radio signals, which could then be used to find it by helicopter.
Unlike the first “Hayabusa”, which burned when it entered the Earth’s atmosphere, “Hayabusa2” continued its mission: It is now on its way to another asteroid near Earth called “1998KY26”. The probe should arrive there in ten years. So far, their mission has been successful.