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Japan brings back Ryugu's asteroid sample

Yesterday, around 3:00 am (UTC + 9) on December 6, 2020, a Japanese re-entry capsule loaded with a sample of the asteroid "Ryugu" landed in Woomera, South Australia.

This capsule was separated from the main body of "Hayabusa2" on December 5th as part of Japan's "Hayabusa2" mission. The capsule separated from the main body of "Hayabusa2" on December 5 deployed a radar cross section parachute and landed on the earth for about 10 km. After that, the capsule body, parachute, and front and rear heat shields landed separately. All parts were then recovered with the support of Australian authorities.

Recovering the sample container. Image courtesy of JAXA.
After recovery, the capsule and its parts were taken to the Quick Look Facility (QLF) to ensure that the sample container was properly sealed and the degassing operation was completed. Currently, the samples are being brought back to Japan.

In the QLF. Image courtesy of JAXA

Return to "Ryugu" and off again!

Hayabusa2 is an asteroid sample return mission launched on December 3, 2014 to explore the near-earth asteroid "Ryugu" with a diameter of about 1 km. The main spacecraft "Hayabusa2" took four years to reach "Ryugu" and rendezvous with an asteroid on June 27, 2018. After about a year and a half of sampling, Hayabusa2 left the asteroid in November 2019 and began a one-year journey back to Earth. On December 5, the spacecraft body released a re-entry capsule containing the sample and is now safely returning.

Although the mission has been technically completed, Hayabusa2 still carries 30 kg of propellant and 66 kg of fuel, which is about half of the original. Hayabusa2 is a long-term mission to investigate two asteroids, the Near-Earth Asteroid (98943) 2001CC, which aims to fly-by in 2026, and the Near-Earth Asteroid (1998KY26), which approaches within 19,427,954 km from the Earth in 2023. In addition, it has been decided to use a spacecraft.

Collecting samples

A total of 2 samples were collected. The first batch containing surface material was taken on February 21, 2019. Hayabusa2 descended to approach the surface of the asteroid and fired projectiles at the surface to release matter. After that, it used the microgravity of the asteroid to lure it to the catcher and capture the substance.

The second batch, taken on July 11, 2019, is a two-step method of subsurface material excavated. First, on April 5th of that year, Hayabusa2 fired a "gun" called a small carry-on impactor (SCI), which was loaded with copper bullets, and then an explosive propellant. It was loaded and fired to the surface. As a result, a crater with a diameter of about 10 meters was excavated. After that, touchdown and sampling were carried out in July. On August 26, the sample catcher was stored in a re-entry capsule and returned to Earth.

Touchdown during 2nd sampling. Image courtesy of JAXA.

Future JAXA exploration mission

Starting with Japan's first lunar mission "SLIM" in early 2020, a mission to flyby the meteor shower mother celestial body 3200 Faeson called "DESTINY +" was launched in 2023, and Japan will be very exciting in the next 10 years. Mission will be carried out. And in 2023, "DESTINY +" will be launched, which will fly-by the 3200 Faeson, the mother celestial body of the meteor shower. One year later, in 2024, Japan will start the Martian mission "Martian Moons EX (MMX)" to study Phobos and Deimos and collect samples from Phobos. If successful, Japan will reach Mars for the first time after the failed exploration of Mars in 1998.

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