Hayabusa2 heads back to Earth with asteroid samples in tow
JAXA's Hayabusa2 asteroid explorer is on its way home to Earth. The unmanned deep-space probe today fired its chemical thrusters to push it away from the asteroid Ryugu at a relative velocity of 9.2 cm/s (3.6 in/s), with the successful burn confirmed by mission control shortly after.
According to JAXA, Hayabusa2 is operating normally and is undergoing system tests as it coasts away from Ryugu. In early December, the spacecraft will fire its main ion thrusters that will place it on a trajectory to fly by Earth in December 2020.
The US$278 million Hayabusa2 mission lifted off atop an H-IIA 202 rocket from the Tanegashima Space Center on December 3, 2014. After its three-and-a-half-year voyage, it reached the asteroid Ryugu, where it deployed two rovers, an instrument package, a camera, and an impactor and collected two samples from the asteroid's surface.
When Hayabusa2 flies by Earth, it will release its sample capsule, which will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere and descend by parachute for a soft landing at the Woomera Test Range in Australia.