Japan’s Hayabusa-2 is Set to Return to Earth With Asteroid Samples

​Japan’s ambitious Hayabusa-2 spacecraft will soon return to Earth, putting an end to its impressive and unique mission. The probe is set to leave its orbit around Ryugu on Wednesday, transporting samples that could help scientists understand how the Solar System formed.

According to Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), Hayabusa-2’s incredibly long trip to Earth is scheduled to begin at 10.15 am (01.05 GMT), with the spacecraft bringing its valuable samples some time at the end of 2020.

“We expect Hayabusa-2 will provide new scientific knowledge to us,” project manager Yuichi Tsuda reported.

Smooth Return

The probe will carry carbon and organic samples that will give scientists insight on how the matter is dispersed around the Solar System, why it exists on the asteroid, and how it correlates to our planet.

The expedition took the Japanese spacecraft approximately 300 million kilometers (186 million miles) out or Earth’s orbit, where it scouted the asteroid Ryugu (meaning ‘Dragon Palace’ in Japanese)

Back in April, Hayabusa-2​ launched an ‘impactor’ into the cosmic object to scatter materials that had not been seen previously. It then made a smooth landing on the asteroid’s surface to gather the samples that astronomers believe will offer hints and tips on what the Solar System was like since it formed, probably around 4.6 billion years ago.

“I’m feeling half-sad, half-determined to do our best to get the probe home,” said Tsuda. “Ryugu has been at the heart of our everyday life for the past year and a half.”

Hayabusa-2​ will be scheduled by the head office that manages it to return back on Earth on Wednesday. It will leave the asteroid’s gravity on November 18th, and start its powerful engines in early December of this year on its journey back to Earth, JAXA announced.

A Future Asteroid Expedition

Tsuda said that the six-year expedition, which previously wore the price tag of approximately 30 billion yen ($278 million), had surpassed expectations. He, though, admitted his team has seen itself having to manage a bunch of technical issues.​

It took the spacecraft three-and-a-half years to get to the distant Ryugu, but the trip back to our planet should take much less time because Earth and Ryugu are now much closer due to their locations registered at the moment.

Hayabusa-2​ is expected to leave the samples it will carry in the South Australian desert, but JAXA is currently bargaining with the Australian government about how to sort it out. The probe is the successor to JAXA’s first spacecraft sent to explore asteroids, dubbed ‘Hayabusa,’ which means ‘falcon’ in Japanese.

The Hayabusa probe carried dust samples from a smaller asteroid back in 2012, in spite of numerous issues it encountered during its iconic seven-year expedition and was acclaimed as a scientific victory.

The current plan states that Hayabusa-2​ will ambitiously continue its exploration in space after leaving its capsule to Earth, and might even be sent on another asteroid mission, JAXA spokesperson Keiichi Murakami said.

“The team has just started to study what can be done (after dropping off the capsule),” but there are no concrete plans about a new destination,” Tsuda said.​

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