Hayabusa2 launches a sample of asteroids to Earth, maneuvering to a new target


An animation showing the release of the capsule from JAXA’s Hayabusa2 probe.


The Hayabusa2 sample capsule is returning home with the first ever chunks of rock from beneath the surface of an asteroid. Around 9:30 PM PT, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) announced that the capsule had separated from the Hayabusa2 probe and was on track to land in the Australian outback in just over 12 hours. Contains samples obtained from the near-Earth asteroid Ryugu, a spinning peak-shaped rock orbiting the sun between Earth and Mars.

The separation occurred about 140,000 miles above Earth with the spacecraft traveling at about 7.2 miles per second. JAXA scientists will now prepare for the capsule reentry and recovery process in a region north of Woomera, an Australian outback town.

The control room in Sagamihara, Japan exploded cheers and cheers at 9:35 pm PT, about five minutes after the separation.

“This is such a great and exciting moment in the history of space,” Niklas Reinke, director of the German Space Agency’s Tokyo office, said at a press conference following the split. The German space agency, DLR, formed a key part of the mission. He helped build the MASCOT lander, which acquired images from the Ryugu surface in October 2018.

The sample capsule will enter the atmosphere at exactly 9:28:27 PT, according to JAXA. As the capsule dives deeper, the friction will create a glowing fireball, which glows in the sky in parts of South Australia. Landing will take place approximately 20-30 minutes later.

Team members in the JAXA control room celebrate a successful separation


JAXA is providing a live stream of the event, which will take place early Saturday morning in the US (e very early Sunday morning, Australian time), although they cannot promise that no vision of the fireball will be transmitted during the stream. You can find out how to watch it here.

They are currently stationed in the outback mining town of Coober Pedy, approximately 500 miles from the nearest Australian capital. It’s one of the best places to see the fireball, but so far the weather hasn’t been cooperative but is expected to improve. Keep checking CNET for watching the capsule return over the weekend.


The timeline for separating the capsules and correcting the Hayabusa2 trajectory.


After traveling 3.2 billion miles (5.2 billion kilometers) to Ryugu and back, Hayabusa2’s main mission is over. When the first Hayabusa mission returned samples from the Itokawa asteroid in 2010, it burned in the atmosphere in a spectacular fashion. The same fate does not await the sequel. The probe made a slight trajectory correction maneuver after releasing the sample capsule. Over the next four hours, its position and attitude will change so that it can slip around the Earth’s gravitational field. During its extended mission, it will fly over the 2001 CC21 asteroid in 2026 and then encounter another small body, 1998 KY26, in 2031.

Sample Recovery Missions provide invaluable tools for scientific discovery. They can reveal secrets from otherworldly bodies in our cosmos, such as the moon, and teach us the formation and evolution of our solar system. JAXA led the way with asteroid sampling, making its first breakthrough in 2010 when it returned samples from asteroid Itokawa, but the mission was plagued with problems and only captured a small amount of material.

But the history of champion recovery missions goes way back in time. In the 1970s, Russia and the United States brought back samples from the moon’s surface during the Apollo and Luna missions, but few missions have flown since.

Now, the missions are experiencing a mini renaissance. In October, NASA’s Osiris-Rex spacecraft landed on the asteroid Bennu on a mission that was almost mashed potato succeeded. The probe was able to collect so many rocks and dirt that it struggled to close its sample capsule. It will return to Earth in 2023.

And the moon isn’t missing even one of the snatch-and-grabs. This week, China announced its Chang’e 5 mission landed on the moon and collected samples from the surface. The champions are expected to return to China in mid-December.

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