A Japanese spacecraft is on its way to deliver a capsule containing samples from a distant asteroid that could give clues about the origin of the solar system and life on Earth, officials said.
Hayabusa 2 left the asteroid Ryugu 180 million miles a year ago. The 136,700-mile-long capsule will be launched Sunday in a remote, densely populated area of Woomera, Australia.
Yuichi Suda, project manager for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), said the Hayabusa 2 was flying smoothly as planned.
“We trained ourselves and now we are fully prepared. So I pray that the equipment that has not been used yet will work well and that there will be good weather in Australia, ”he said. “We are very excited.”
Early Sunday morning, the heat-shielded capsule turns into a fireball when it re-enters the atmosphere 75 miles above Earth. At a height of six miles above the ground, a parachute opens to slow down its fall and transmits beacon signals to indicate its position.
Jaxa staff have deployed satellite resources at various locations to receive signals, while preparing marine radar, drones and helicopters to assist in the search and retrieval of the 15in diameter pan-shaped capsule.
Scientists say the samples, especially those taken from the asteroid’s surface, contain valuable data that do not affect space radiation and other environmental factors. They have a special interest in analyzing the organic matter in the samples.
Jaxa hopes to find clues about how objects are distributed in the solar system and those related to life on Earth.
For Hayabusa 2, this is not the end of the mission launched in 2014. After leaving the capsule, it will return to space and fly to another distant asteroid, 1998KY26, which will take 10 years on a journey.
So far, its mission has been a complete success. Despite having a very rocky surface, it touched the Rue twice, and collected data and samples during the 18 months spent near Rue since its arrival in June 2018.
During the first touchdown in February 2019, it collected surface dust samples. In July of that year, a more challenging mission collected underground samples from the asteroid for the first time in space history.
Asteroids, which orbit the Sun and are much smaller than the planets, are one of the oldest objects in the Solar System, helping to explain how the Earth evolved.
Tugu in Japanese means Dragon Palace, the name of a seaside castle in Japanese folklore.