Hayabusa2, the first spacecraft to successfully collect underground samples from an asteroid (162173 Ryugu), is now on its way home. The spacecraft launched by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (Jaxa), departed asteroid Ryugu on Wednesday.
It is to be noted that the Hayabusa2 weighs 600 kgs and was launched from the Tanegashima Space Centre in December 2014. It has a price tag of around 30 billion yen ($270 million). Hayabusa2 arrived at Ryugu in June 2018. Originally, Hayabusa 2 was supposed to collect three samples from different locations on the asteroid.
However, as soon as the spacecraft arrived at Ryugu, mission planners decided to collect two samples i.e. a surface sample of the asteroid’s regolith, and a sub-surface sample of monolithic bedrock, excavated with an impactor.
Both samples are contained in sealed containers inside the sample-return capsule. The capsule will be returned to Earth when Hayabusa2 flies by in December 2020. As soon as the capsule re-enters Earth’s atmosphere, it will use parachutes to land in Australia. Yes, you read it right. Hayabusa2 will complete the 800 million km journey in approximately 13 months.
Ryugu is a carbonaceous near-Earth asteroid. Ryugu is named after an undersea dragon palace in a Japanese folktale and is about 300 million kilometres from Earth. Ryugu, about 900 metres in diameter, is extremely rocky on its surface and has signs of organic compounds.
By studying the samples of asteroid Ryugu, JAXA hopes to learn more about the formation and evolution of the Solar System’s rocky planets, including Earth.