The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Hayabusa2 mission is heading to Earth to release its sample capsule before moving on to the next part of its expanded mission: visiting more asteroids.
Although this event takes place between 3:30 and 4:30 a.m. Australian time on Sunday, it will take place between 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday. The capsule is expected to land on Earth about 15 minutes after entering the Earth’s atmosphere.
During re-entry, a fireball will pass through the sky in the early morning hours at the Australian end.
Hayabusa2 launched on December 3, 2014 and arrived on the nearby Earth asteroid Ryugo in June 2018. The spacecraft collected a sample of the asteroid’s surface on February 22, 2019, and then fired a copper “bullet” into the asteroid to create a 33-foot-wide crater. A specimen was collected from this crater on July 11, 2019.
Hayabusa2 then left the asteroid in November 2019 and returned to Earth.
Overall, the mission’s scientific team believes 1 gram of material has been collected, but they cannot be sure until they open it.
“One gram may sound small, but for us, one gram is huge,” said Masaki Fujimoto, deputy director general of JAXA’s Solar System Science Division, during an Internet briefing hosted by the Australian Media Center. “It is enough to address our scientific questions.
Hayabusa’s first mission returned specimens of the Itokawa asteroid to Earth in June 2010, but scientists said that due to the failure of the spacecraft’s sampling device, they were able to extract only micrograms of dust from the asteroid.
“Ryugu is connected to the process that made our planet habitable,” Fujimoto said. “The Earth was born dry; it did not start with water. We think that distant bodies like Ryugu came into the interior of the solar system, struck the Earth, delivered water and made it a habitat. That is the basic question we need and we need samples to that has been resolved. “
As Hayabusa2 does not return to Earth, it ejects the фу 35 return sample capsule as it floats past our planet this weekend at a distance of 136,701 miles. The spacecraft will then change course to travel farther from Earth and move along its extended mission.
The Australian Government has granted JAXA permission to lower its capsule in the Vumera Prohibited Area in South Australia. This remote area is used by the Australian Ministry of Defense for testing.
The Japanese space agency had previously used the site to land on Hayabusa in 2010. JAXA liked its partnership with Australia, the large, flat and open nature of the country and the fact that the team can quickly move the sample from Australia to Japan.
At around 4am Australian time, the team will be looking for a fireball to pass through the Australian sky.
“For non-team members, the fireball looks like a grand finale. But for us, it’s the bell ringing and telling us, ‘This is not an exercise,'” Fujimoto said.
The large landing area extends 124 miles north to south and 62 miles east to west. The agency designated this large area to compensate for any uncertainty created by the local wind speed when the capsule deploys its parachute.
The team will then try to locate the capsule landing site as soon as possible.
Once the capsule is found, a helicopter will take the scientists from the sample team to the landing site so they can collect it. The capsule will be placed in a protective box and they will return it to the headquarters, a temporary facility they built.
This clean room will allow the team to check the capsule and allow degassing. The capsule may have collected gases from the asteroid – which are likely to be emitted from the collected spacecraft sample. Any discovery of gas in the gas sample container is a good sign that they have successfully collected a sample of material from the asteroid.
An official announcement on the amount of material collected from the asteroid will be released after the samples are returned to Japan and opened, Fujimoto said.
Hayabusa2 will fly three asteroids between 2026 and 2031, eventually reaching the rapidly rotating micro-asteroid 1998 KY26 in July 2031 million miles from Earth. This will be the first flight of this type of asteroid.
What’s in an asteroid sample?
Asteroids are like remnants of the formation of our solar system, preserving information about the origin of the planets as well as the vital elements that enable life on Earth.
Ryugu is in the shape of a diamond and has a diameter of just over half a mile.
“I predict that the Hayabusa2 specimens on the asteroid Ryugu will be very similar to the meteorite that fell in Australia near Murcison, Victoria, more than 50 years ago,” said Trevor Ireland, a professor at the Australian National University, School of Science and a member of the the Hayabusa2 scientific team in Wumera, in a statement.
“Murchison meteorite opened a window on the origin of the Earth’s organic organisms because it was discovered that these rocks contain simple amino acids as well as abundant water. We will examine whether Ryugu is a potential source of organic matter and water on Earth when the solar system formed and whether “they still remain intact on the asteroid.”
Ryugu is also an asteroid close to Earth that has an orbit between Earth and Mars. Make a close approach to Earth in December 2076. Understanding these potentially dangerous asteroids can allow space agencies to plan how to dislodge them.
The NASA OSIRIS-Rex mission recently assembled a sample of another near-Earth asteroid, Bennu, which is similar in composition to Ryugu. In fact, based on early data from both missions, scientists working on both missions believe that these two asteroids may have once belonged to the same larger parent body before collapsing from impact.
The Bennu specimen will be returned to Earth by 2023.
Patrick Michel, director of research at the French National Center for Scientific Research in Paris, is a researcher on both missions.
“It’s really important to realize that no two asteroids are the same,” Michelle told CNN in October. “Even if Bennu and Ryugu have some intriguing similarities and belong to the same category (primitive), they also have very interesting differences. “These samples will also occupy generations of researchers because a large amount will be stored for future generations who will benefit from the increase in technology and accuracy of the instruments used for their analysis.”