Hayabusa2: Japanese spacecraft starts year-long journey home from asteroid

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA) Hayabusa 2 probe is heading back to earth from its mission of collecting samples from an asteroid called Ryugu, about 300 million kilometres from Earth. The unmanned probe ‘Hayabusa 2’, named after a falcon is scheduled to return to Earth by the end of 2020.

Why Asteroid? Asteroids are believed to have formed at the dawn of solar system. Moreover, scientists believe that asteroid Ryugu may contain organic matter that may have contributed to life on Earth.

About Japan’s Hayabusa 2

The spacecraft first touched down on the asteroid Ryugu in February 2019 with a mission to collect samples that could provide clues to the origin of solar system as well as life on Earth. Scientists also hope that the samples contain carbon and organic matter that could explain how they are related to Earth.

Mission: Mission of Spacecraft was to gather around 10g of dislodged debris. During sample collection, the spacecraft approached 1km-wide asteroid with an instrument called the sampler horn and on touchdown, a 5g ‘bullet’ made of metal tantalum was fired into rocky surface at 300m/s.

The Hayabusa2 made two touchdowns on the asteroid and successfully collected data and samples during its 1½-year mission since arriving there in June 2018. Any material thus collected will be stored onboard the probe until its return to Earth. The mission costed nearly 29 billion yen (£205m).

The spacecraft is expected to return to Earth in late 2020 and drop a capsule containing the precious samples in Australian desert. After dropping off a capsule containing the samples, the probe will not land but rather will keep itself going on and fly away into space, thus finishing its 6-year mission.

If the return trip is completed successfully it will be the first time that samples from beneath an asteroid’s surface have been brought back to Earth.

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