Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa2 will drop a capsule onto a remote Australian island carrying asteroid fragments, six years after its groundbreaking mission began. The collected asteroids could shed light on the formation of the solar system and the origins of life according to scientists.
The capsule will enter the skies of Woomera in South Australia, in the early hours of Sunday. By that time the probe will complete a round-trip of around 6 billion km that includes two brief stops on the surface of a moving asteroid.
Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (Jaxa) said that the unmanned spacecraft will release the capsule from a height of about 220,000 km.
The re-entry of the capsule on Sunday will also mark the climax of the mission that left the Tanegashima space centre in south-west Japan in December 2014. Hayabusa means falcon in Japanese. The Hayabusa2 mission reached the stationary position above the Ryugu asteroid, in June 2018. The spacecraft reached that positionafter travelling 3.2 billion km on an orbit around the sun for more than three years.
According to a report by The Guardian, after briefly landing on Ryugu the Hayabusa2 fired a tiny tantalum pellet at the asteroid’s surface to kick up dust for collection, before blasting back to its holding position. The spacecraft gathered the dislodged debris with an instrument named the Sampler Horn that hangs from its underbelly.
Five months later, it became the first spacecraft to make a second landing and collected dislodged rock fragments and soil from beneath the surface of the 4.6bn year-old asteroid.
Those sub-surface samples are believed to contain carbon and organic matter that are in the same state as they were when the solar system was formed because they have been shielded from space radiation and other environmental factors.
The capsule that will reach the earth can help scientists unravel some deep mysteries of our universe.