Asteroid Ryugu Current Affairs - 2020

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.

Japan’s Hayabusa2 Probe makes 2nd touchdown on asteroid Ryugu

Japan’s Hayabusa2 probe has made a perfect touchdown on a distant asteroid named Ryugu, some 300 million kilometres from Earth. It collected samples from beneath surface in an unprecedented mission that could shed light on origins of solar system.

About Hayabusa2 Mission

Creating History: Before this touchdown by Hayabusa2 probe, a  sub-surface material from a celestial body further away than moon have never been gathered. Thus Japan became 1st country to do so. Hayabusa2 also made history with the creation of the crater on Ryugu’s surface.

Objective: It is intended to collect pristine materials from beneath surface of desolate asteroid as it is believed that collected material could provide insights into what solar system was like at its birth, some 4.6 billion years ago.

Background: It is the successor to JAXA’s (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) 1st asteroid explorer called Hayabusa which is Japanese word for ‘falcon’. In 2010 Hayabusa returned with dust samples from a smaller, potato-shaped asteroid. It was also hailed as scientific triumph despite various setbacks during its epic 7-year odyssey. Then Hayabusa2 Mission was launched in December 2014, with project cost around $270 million. Hayabusa2 mission is a complex multi-year which has also involved sending rovers and robots down to the surface. It is scheduled to return to Earth with its samples in 2020.

1st Touchdown of Hayabusa2: The recent brief landing is 2nd time Hayabusa2 has touched down on desolate asteroid Ryugu. The 1st touchdown was in February 2019, when it landed briefly on asteroid Ryugu and fired a bullet into surface to puff up dust for collection just before blasting back to its holding position.

Importance of 2nd Touchdown: The 2nd Touchdown required special preparations as any problems could have meant that probe would lose precious materials already gathered during its 1st landing. It is the last major part of Hayabusa2’s mission, and when probe returns to Earth in 2020 to drop off its samples, scientists hope to learn more about history of solar system and even origin of life on Earth.

Ryugu, in in Japanese means Dragon Palace. It refers to a castle at bottom of ocean in an ancient Japanese tale.