Hayabusa2 returns asteroid samples to Earth after fiery reentry
After a voyage of more than a year, the capsule carrying samples of the asteroid Ryugu collected by Japan's Hayabusa2 deep-space probe has returned to Earth and has been recovered. On December 6 at 2:28 am JST, the re-entry capsule blazed a fiery path in the night sky over Australia before parachuting down on the Woomera Test Range where it was recovered a little over two hours later by a JAXA helicopter following its radio locator beacon.
The recovery of the capsule comes after it successfully separated from the Hayabusa2 probe at 2:35 pm JST on December 5. This was confirmed by JAXA using both telemetry and Doppler radar. The recovered capsule has been flown to the Quick Look Facility (QLF) at the Woomera Ranger Operations Centre processing.
Costing US$278 million, the Hayabusa2 mission lifted off atop an H-IIA 202 rocket from the Tanegashima Space Center on December 3, 2014. It took three-and-a-half-years for ion thrusters to propel the spacecraft to the asteroid Ryugu, where it deployed two rovers, an instrument package, a camera, and an impactor before collecting two samples from the asteroid's surface.
This is only the second time material from an asteroid has been returned to Earth. The feat was first performed by Hayabusa2's predecessor, which collected samples from the asteroid Itokawa and returned them to Earth in 2010.
Because they have changed little in billions of years, asteroids like the 1-kilometer-wide Ryugu give scientists an opportunity to study the early solar system.
While the sample capsule has been recovered, Hayabusa2 itself will go into orbit around the Sun. Though its asteroid sample mission has been completed, the craft still has sufficient xenon propellant aboard to undertake secondary missions – a flyby of asteroid (98943) 2001 CC21 in July 2026 and asteroid 1998 KY26 in July 2031.