Japan’s space agency is nearing the end of a journey of discovery that aims to shed light on the earliest eras of the solar system and possibly provide clues about the origin of life on Earth.
But first, the Australian outback would go on a scavenger hunt.
Later this week, bits of the asteroid will land in a barren area near Woomera, South Australia. Earth is being trampled by Hebabus 2, a robotic space probe launched by Japan’s space agency Jaxa in 2014, to locate an asteroid named Ryugu, half a mile wide from a dark, carbon-rich rock.
The mission’s success and the science it produces will elevate Japan’s position as a central player in deep space exploration, along with NASA, the European Space Agency and Russia. JAXA is currently A spacecraft in orbit around Venus while studying Hellish climate of that planet And collaborating with Europeans on a mission On its way to mercury.
But the immediate challenge will be to search in the dark for a 16-inch-wide capsule with samples of asteroids between hundreds of square miles in an area 280 miles north of the largest large city of Adelaide.
“It’s really nowhere,” said Shogo Tachibana, chief investigator in charge of analyzing the Hayabusa 2 samples. He is part of a team of over 70 people from Japan who have arrived in Wumera to recover the capsule. The area, used by the Australian Army for testing, provides a wide open space that is ideal for the return of an interdisciplinary investigation.
The small return capsule detached from the main spacecraft about 12 hours before the scheduled landing, when it was about 125,000 miles from Earth. JAXA Will broadcast live coverage The capsule’s landing began at 11:30 am Eastern time on Saturday. (It will be pre-dawn hours on Sundays in Australia.)
The capsule is expected to hit the ground a few minutes before noon.
In an interview, the mission manager, Makoto Yoshikawa, said there is an uncertainty of about 10 kilometers or about six miles in pinpointing, where the capsule will re-enter the atmosphere. At an altitude of six miles, the capsule would release a parachute, and where it would descend, it would add uncertainty.
“Landing place depends on the wind that day,” Dr. Yoshikawa said. He said that explorers may have to travel about 60 miles.
Superheat air fire shells created by the re-entering capsule will help guide the recovery team, as will the capsule’s radio beacon. If the beacon fails or if the parachute fails to deploy then the task will become much more difficult.
There is also a little crowd. The team hopes to recover the capsule, perform preliminary analysis and ship it back to Japan within 100 hours. Even though the capsule is sealed, the concern is that the Earth’s air will slowly go in. “There is no right seal,” Dr. Tachibana said.
Once the capsule is found, a helicopter will take it to a laboratory, which is set up at the Australian Air Force base in Woomera. An instrument will eject any gas within the capsule that can be released by the asteroid rocks as they are shaken and broken during re-entry. Dr. Yoshikawa said scientists would also like to see if they could detect any solar air particles of helium that slipped into the asteroid and fell into the rocks.
The gases also convinced scientists that Hayabusa 2 actually collected samples from Ryugu. A minimum of 0.1 gram or 1 / 280th ounce is required to declare success. The spacecraft is expected to bring back several grams.
In Japan, the Hayabusa 2 team will begin analysis of Ryugu samples. In about a year, some samples will be shared with other scientists for additional study.
To collect these samples, Hayabusa arrived at the asteroid on 2 June 2018. This carried out a series of investigations, each increasing technical complexity. It fell on Ryugu’s surface to investigate, Destroyed a hole in the asteroid Peers that lie below and twice descend on the surface to pull small pieces of the asteroid, an operation that proved more challenging than expected due to multiple boulders on the surface.
Smaller planets such as Ryugu were rarely used for planetary scientists focusing on planetary studies, it said, adding that Masaki Fujimoto, deputy director general of the Institute of Space and Space Sciences, is part of Joxa. “Small body, who cares?” he said. “But if you’re serious about the formation of planetary systems, then smaller bodies really matter.”
Ryugu’s study of water trapped in minerals may indicate if water in Earth’s oceans came from asteroids, and if carbon-based molecules could sow the building blocks for life.
A portion of the Ryugu samples will go to NASA, which is bringing back some rocks and soil from another asteroid with its OSIRIS-REX mission. The OSIRIS-REX space probe is studying a small carbon-rich asteroid named Bennu And it will start back on Earth next spring, Dropping their rock samples in september 2023.
Ryugu and Bennu were surprisingly similar in some ways, both looking like spines and with surfaces covered with boulders, but different in other ways. The rocks of Ryugu hold very little water for one. The importance of similarity and difference will not be clear until scientists study the rocks in more detail.
“When the OSIRIS-REX sample comes back, we’ll have lessons learned from the Hayabusa 2 mission,” said Harold C., a professor of geology at Rowan University in New Jersey and mission sample scientist at OSIRIS-REX. Conolly Jr. said. “The similarities and differences are absolutely fascinating.”
Dr. Connolly hopes to go to Japan next summer to analyze Rugu samples.
Hayabusa 2 is not Japan’s first planetary mission. Indeed, its name alludes to the existence of Hayabusa, an earlier mission that brought samples back from another asteroid, Itokawa. But the mission, which began in 2003 and returned in 2010, faced major technical problems. So was Jaxa’s Akatsuki spacecraft currently orbiting around Venus, which the Japanese agency managed to restore to a scientific mission after years of hardship. In 2003, a Japanese mission on Mars also failed.
In contrast, the Hayabusa 2’s operation has gone almost flawlessly, even though it retains the same general design as its predecessor. Mission Manager Dr. “Actually, there are no major problems,” Yoshikawa said. “Of course, small ones.”
He said the team studied the failures on Hayabusa in detail and made changes as needed, and also made several rehearsals to try to anticipate any contingencies that might occur.
Japanese missions typically operate on a smaller budget than NASA’s and thus often carry fewer equipment. The Hayabusa 2 costs less than $ 300 million while the OSIRIS-REX will cost around $ 1 billion.
Dropping samples from Ryugu is not the end of the Hayabusa 2 mission. After releasing the return capsule, the main spacecraft shifted course to avoid a collision with Earth, disappearing from a distance of 125 miles. It will now travel to another asteroid, designated a small 1998 KY26 that is only 100 feet in diameter but rotates rapidly, completing a detour in less than 11 minutes.
Hayabusa 2 will use two of Earth’s flybys to propel themselves towards KY26, eventually arriving in 2031. It will conduct some astronomical experiments during its extended deep space travel and spacecraft. Still uses a final projectile that can use it To test that space rock surface.