It’s been a long time since we talked about the Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa2. About a year ago, Hayabusa2 landed on the asteroid Ryugu about 180 million miles away from Earth. The spacecraft is now very close to returning home with samples for further analysis.
Hayabusa2 is expected to return to Earth on December 6, landing in southern Australia. The samples mark the first to be returned from an asteroid, and scientists are excited to begin studying the material. Researchers believe that the samples inside the spacecraft, particularly those taken from under the asteroid surface, will contain valuable data unaffected by space radiation and other environmental factors.
One thing researchers will specifically be searching for when analyzing the samples are any organic materials. Organic materials were the regions of life on Earth, but scientists still don’t know where those materials originally came from. One theory is that the organic materials came from asteroids and comets that impacted the Earth over the eons.
The last part of the Hayabusa2 mission, the actual returning of the samples to Earth, requires precise control. The spacecraft will drop the capsule containing the samples from a distance of 136,700 miles from the planet’s surface. A heat shield protects the capsule, which will turn into a fireball when it enters the atmosphere at about 125 miles above the ground.
When the capsule reaches an altitude of about six miles above the ground, a parachute will open in preparation for landing. A beacon inside will activate to transmit the location of the capsule. Multiple satellite dishes are set up in Australia around the target area to retrieve those signals. Radar, drones, and helicopters are ready to assist in the search and retrieval. The capsule itself is very small at only about 15 inches in diameter and would be difficult to find without beacons.