(ORDO NEWS) — On December 5, 2020, the main part of the mission of the Japanese spacecraft JAXA “Hayabusa-2” came to an end: a capsule with soil samples from the asteroid Ryugu successfully landed on the earth’s surface.
The Hayabusa-2 spacecraft was launched in 2014, and in 2018 it reached the asteroid Ryugu , starting mapping and data collection. It is noteworthy that two small experimental hopping rovers were dropped on the surface of the asteroid, which took a series of images from a minimum distance from the surface and helped to find a place to collect samples. First, Hayabusa 2 took one sample from the surface, and then exploded into a crater and took a second sample from the bowels of Ryugu. In November 2019, the device left the asteroid and headed for Earth. Now, six years later, the samples are in the hands of scientists.
The important mission of Hayabusa-2
In order for the samples to reach the Earth, the Hayabusa-2 spacecraft had to repeatedly adjust its trajectory. In November 2020, the third phase of maneuvering was carried out, which allowed the probe to target the Australian Woomera training ground, where the capsule was supposed to land. On December 1, a final maneuver was carried out, which made it possible to clarify the expected landing zone, so that the capsule with the invaluable cargo was easier to find.
On December 5 at 05:35 UTC the capsule with Ryugu soil samples separated from Hayabusa-2 and began its descent. The spacecraft itself turned on its engines and moved away from the planet to continue its study of the solar system.
12 hours after separation, the capsule began to fall at a speed of about 12 kilometers per second, but it was protected from critical temperatures by ablative heat protection – a technology for protecting spacecraft, heat protection based on ablative materials.
At an altitude of about 10 kilometers from the surface, the heat-shielding elements were separated and the parachute was deployed. The capsule dropped its speed abruptly and began to descend smoothly. The radio beacon helped the search teams to determine the approximate location of the cargo.
The recovered capsule was taken to the Quick Look Facility (QLF), where a sealed container with samples will be removed from it for transport to Japan. The samples will then be transferred to the Institute of Space Sciences and Astronautics (ISAS), where they will be examined and inventoried.
In about six months, Ryugu samples will be distributed as follows: 30% will be sent for research to Japanese scientific organizations, another 30% – to international partners, including NASA. The rest of the soil will be stored, waiting for the technologies of the future to find out significantly more useful information.
The future of the Hayabusa 2 mission
Since the Hayabusa-2 spacecraft is still in excellent condition and has an adequate supply of fuel, its mission continues. The new target of the probe is a small near-Earth asteroid 1998 KY26, which resembles Ryuga in many ways. Hayabusa-2 will reach it in the summer of 2031, but before that, performing a series of gravitational maneuvers near the Earth, the probe will visit another near-Earth asteroid 2001 CC21 in 2026.
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