Japan's Hayabusa2 shoots BOMB at giant Ryugu asteroid
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA) Hayabusa2 spacecraft successfully detached a small capsule today and sent it on a course towards Earth to deliver valuable asteroid samples. Experts believe asteroid Ryugu could well provide evidence about the solar system’s origin and even inform how life came to exist on Earth.
JAXA engineers confirmed the capsule successfully detached 136,700 miles (220,000 km) from Earth in an operation requiring precision control.
We’ve successfully come this far, and when we fulfil our final mission to recover the capsule, it will be perfect
JAXA’s Makoto Yoshikawa
Hayabusa2 departed from asteroid Ryugu, in orbit approximately 180 million miles (300 million km) away, almost exactly one year ago.
After the cutting-edge craft released the capsule, Hayabusa2 moved away from Earth to capture images as it descended towards the planet before setting off on a new expedition to another distant asteroid.
Then, just two hours later, JAXA announced it had successfully rerouted Hayabusa2 for its new mission, to the obvious delight of those working at JAXA’s command centre near Tokyo.
Makoto Yoshikawa, the mission manager said: “We’ve successfully come this far, and when we fulfil our final mission to recover the capsule, it will be perfect.”
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How to watch Japan’s Hayabusa2 asteroid sample return:
The 40cm-wide capsule is now descending towards Earth and is expected to land at approximately 5pm GMT on Saturday (9am PT), in a remote area of Woomera, Australia.
The broadcast is expected to last approximately 70 minutes but may stretch to 90.
This is a few seconds after the fireball is expected to appear, however, whether this will be visible from the ground as the spacecraft returns to Earth is unknown.
The live stream has been made available by JAXA and can be viewed below.
The capsule, protected by a heat shield, will briefly turn into a fireball as it re-enters Earth’s thick atmosphere 75 miles (120km) over Earth.
At approximately six miles (10km) above ground, a parachute will release to further slow its descent and beacon signals will begin transmitting to publicise its exact location.
JAXA has installed an array of satellite dishes around the target area to receive the signals.
The organisation will also use a marine radar, drones and helicopters to assist in the search and swift retrieval of the pan-shaped capsule and its precious cargo.
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Australian National University space rock expert Trevor Ireland expects the Ryugu samples to be similar to the meteorite that fell in Australia in Victoria state more than 50 years ago.
He said: ”The Murchison meteorite opened a window on the origin of organics on Earth because these rocks were found to 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 was forming, and whether these still remain intact on the asteroid.”
Experts believe the samples, in particular ones obtained from beneath the asteroid’s surface, contain valuable data unaffected by space radiation and other environmental factors.
They are particularly interested in analysing organic materials in the samples.
JAXA also expects to find clues to how the materials are distributed in the solar system and are related to life on Earth.
Yoshikawa, the mission manager, said 0.1 gram of the cosmic space dust would be enough to carry out all planned researches.
Hayabusa2’s return with the world’s first asteroid subsurface samples arrives only weeks after NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft conducted a similarly successful touch-and-go grab of surface samples from asteroid Bennu.
And the mission’s culmination also coincides with China this week announcing its lunar lander collected underground samples and sealed them within the spacecraft for their return to Earth.
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