HAYABUSA-2: RETURNS HOME WITH ASTEROID SAMPLES IN ‘PERFECT’ SHAPE
Hayabusa 2 is a Japanese mission launched in December 2014 on a six-year mission to study the asteroid Ryugu and to collect samples to bring to Earth for analysis.
A capsule containing the first significant quantities of rock from an asteroid is in "perfect" shape, according to scientists.
The container with material from a space rock called Ryugu parachuted down near Woomera in South Australia on Saturday evening (GMT).
A recovery team in Australia found the spacecraft lying on the sandy ground, with its parachute draped over a bush.
The samples were originally collected by the Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa-2.
The spacecraft spent more than a year investigating Ryugu before returning to Earth. As it approached our planet, Hayabusa-2 released the capsule with the samples and fired its engines to push off in another direction.
The 16kg capsule, meanwhile, entered the Earth’s atmosphere.
The official Hayabusa-2 Twitter account reported that the capsule and its parachute had been found at 19:47 GMT.
“Hayabusa-2 is home,” Dr Yuichi Tsuda, project manager for the mission, said at a press conference on Sunday morning (GMT) in Sagamihara, Japan.
“We collected the treasure box,” he said, adding: “The capsule collection was perfectly done.”
He said there was no damage to the container.
Dr Hitoshi Kuninaka, director general of Japan’s Institute for Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS), said: “We started development of Hayabusa-2 in 2011. I think the dream has come true.”
Addressing journalists, he acknowledged past missions that had experienced technical problems, but said: “Regarding Hayabusa-2, we did everything according to the schedule – 100%. And we succeeded in sample return as planned. As a result, we can move on to the next stage in space development.”
The next stage includes a mission called MMX, which will aim to bring back samples from Mars’ largest moon Phobos.
Earlier on Saturday, the capsule was picked up by cameras as a dazzling fireball streaking over Australia’s Coober Pedy region.
Screaming towards Earth at 11km/s, it deployed parachutes to slow its descent. The capsule then began transmitting a beacon with information about its position.
The spacecraft touched down on the vast Woomera range, operated by the Royal Australian Air Force.
At around 18:07 GMT (04:37 local time), the recovery team identified the position of the capsule on the ground. A helicopter, equipped with an antenna to pick up the beacon, took to the air shortly afterwards.
Satoru Nakazawa, Hayabusa-2 sub-manager at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (Jaxa), who was part of the operation at Woomera, described the search: “We went there with the helicopter and it was emitting the beacon signal. But at that time, it was still dark, so it was unclear [where it was]. I was very, very nervous.
“We flew over the area [where it landed] many times and I thought maybe that was where it was. Then the Sun rose and we could visually confirm the existence of the capsule. We thought: ‘Wow, we found it!”
“But we had a very jittery, frustrating time until sunrise.”
The capsule was then taken to a “quick-look facility” for inspection. On Monday, Jaxa said it had collected gases from inside the container for analysis,