Hayabusa 1 was already a pioneer. But Japan’s second space mission could bring back enough dust to keep asteroid researchers busy for years. On Sunday, after a six-year mission, the spacecraft successfully landed in the Australian desert.
The Japanese Hayabusa2 spacecraft orbited the roundabout for six years. She has now successfully completed her mission to the asteroid Ryugu and sent a sample capsule to Earth. Japan’s Yaksa space agency said Sunday morning (local time) that a helicopter had found the small container in the landing area. It is located in the desert of the South Australian Wummera range, about 460 km north of the city of Adelaide. Researchers expect 4.6 billion-year-old material from the asteroid Ryugu, which originated in the early days of the solar system, in the container.
“That’s great,” said Yaksa project manager Yuichi Cuda of Japan’s NHK television channel. “It was a wonderful re-entry. “We were all very moved.” The mission aims to answer basic questions about the origins of the solar system and where molecules like water come from. Astrophysicist Lisa Harvey-Smith told Australian broadcaster ABC that the mission had a different purpose: “What we are doing here is examining a clean rock that has not yet been exposed to sunlight.”
Images of a re-entry fireball We have released short videos of the re-entry capsule as it passed through the Earth’s atmosphere, captured near Kuber Paddy in Australia. Link: https://t.co/wFHcICc7L1
– HAYABUSA2 @ JAXA (@ haya2e_jaxa) December 5, 2020
After recovery, the capsule is first examined for its condition. The samples are then taken to Japan in a still-sealed capsule for landing on the plane, where they are transferred to a laboratory at the Yaksa ISAS Research Institute (Space and Astronautical Science Institute) in Sagamihara, near Tokyo. room in a vacuum chamber.
First, the individual components of the samples will be curated and described before microscopic, mineralogical and geochemical research can begin in mid-2021. Scientists hope to trace the origins of the solar system and life on Earth by analyzing samples. The samples may contain organic material, said the head of the mission, Makoto Yoshikawa. The main focus is on amino acids, which are the basic building blocks of life.
Insight into the formation of the solar system
This is a historic moment for space exploration, Anke Kaiser-Pizzala, chairwoman of the board of the German airspace VVD, was quoted as saying in a statement to DLR media. She is confident that the analysis of Ryugu specimens, thanks to Jaxa, will now begin another insightful chapter in international asteroid research.
The Japanese mission is part of a global effort to shed light on the formation of the solar system and life on Earth through the study of asteroids. NASA’s Osaris Rex spacecraft recently visited an asteroid and collected rock samples. Asteroids are considered a very promising subject of research because, along with comets, they are among the oldest celestial bodies in the solar system. For example, the age of the asteroid that Ryugu visited this time is estimated at 4.5 billion years.
Jaksa hopes to find organic matter in the stellar dust that can inoculate life on Earth through asteroid strikes from ancient times. Head of Mission Yoshikawa encourages the expectation that the second asteroid excursion will return more than 1,500 stains of dust sucked by the first Hayabusa mission in 2010. “We believe we have collected a lot of material,” he told a news conference recently.
How Japan made routine asteroid flights
For Yoshikawa, Jaksa continues her success story, and this becomes more and more routine. The expert reminds that the first mission of Hayabusa was still dramatic. The radio contact was broken and some engines failed. The pioneer almost never returned to earth. “But this time there were no major problems,” said Yoshikawa. Space researchers have learned a lot from the first mission.
Among other things, the vulnerable ion drives have been updated, which ionize small particles of xenon gas and expel them from the engine. Although they provide only a small stop and therefore can only drive light probes such as the 609 kg Hayabusa 2, they have a wide range. In addition, guidance and navigation technology, antennas and attitude control systems have been improved.
The smooth journey is already the first great success. In addition, Hayabusa 2 has made seven premieres on the nearby Earth asteroid Ryugo, including the landing of the Franco-German rover Mascota, as well as more precise landings on the celestial body probe and collecting samples below the surface.
The Japanese rely on rovers from Bremen
The landing in Kuber Paddy, Australia, was not only closely monitored in Japan but also in the northern German port city of Bremen. The DLR branch is in charge of project management for the Franco-German landing vehicle Mascot, which surveyed the surface with a camera, microscope and radiometer and searched for the asteroid’s magnetic field.
“The measurements met our expectations,” said DLR expert Tra-Mi Ho, who as project manager coordinated the development of the Mascot. The microscope did not work, but the other devices did. “We were delighted with the resolution of the images,” she said.
The researchers were now able to examine the surface to the millimeter range. In doing so, they confirmed what they had previously suspected. “Ryugu’s surface is not made of regolith,” she said, the tiny dust that covers the moon. Instead, the asteroid is porous and consists of larger pieces of material piled up with bright inclusions. “We are now trying to compare it to meteorites found on Earth,” Ho said.
Ho does not have much time to enjoy. Because the DLR is also involved in the next pioneering act of the Japanese with a new rover. Jaxa will be the first space organization to land on the Martian moon Phobos in 2025 and will bring 10 to 100 kilograms of rock from there.
Hayabusa 2 has not yet completed its mission either. After dropping stellar dust from the Ryugu asteroid, the spacecraft embarks on the next phase of its journey, the small 40-meter, fast-rotating 1998 KY26 asteroid.
There is still enough ion-powered xenon on board, says mission chief Yoshikawa. But there is a problem: the extraterrestrial rendezvous is not planned until 2031. “The question is whether the spacecraft can last ten years,” Yoshikawa said. “But that is exactly the challenge.”
With agency material