Japan spacecraft starts yearlong journey home from asteroid

Pablo Tucker
November 13, 2019

"We are finally leaving Ryugu!" The mission is apparently carrying samples from the space rock and the probe is expected to land back on earth by December 2020. The probe had touched down on Ryugu twice and also bombarded it in order to gather subsurface material.

Japan's Hayabusa2 probe has left Ryugu asteroid and started its 300-million-kilometer (186-million-mile) journey through space towards Earth, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency confirmed on Wednesday. It is expected that the Hayabusa-2 spacecraft will break free the asteroid's gravity on November 18. Later, the spacecraft will hearth its primary thrusters and can begin its journey in the direction of earth.

Apparently, the Hayabusa-2 spacecraft won't dissipate within the earth's ambiance.

If organic matter is found in the samples, it could lead to a potential breakthrough in looking into the creation of the solar system and life on Earth.

Tsuda said the six-year mission, which had a price tag of around 30 billion yen ($278 million), had exceeded expectations but admitted his team had to overcome a host of technical problems. Looking back, the mission has been nothing short of a spectacular success-though the final sigh of relief will come when scientists open the cargo containers and confirm that they really do contain the samples of asteroid they were created to collect.

For a little over a year, a tiny unmanned Japanese spacecraft has been sampling the surface of the near-Earth asteroid Ryugu, capturing images, blasting a little crater in it, and firing a "bullet" into its exterior to dislodge particles.

"All of us are satisfied and have no complaints with what we accomplished", said Yuichi Tsuda, project manager for the probe, in a briefing Tuesday. Hayabusa2's venture, which began in 2014, is the world's first sample return mission to a C-type asteroid. It has captured photos of Ryugu as it moved away and will continue taking pictures of the asteroid over the next five days. Details are still being negotiated with the Australian government, he said.

The earlier probe returned with dust samples from a smaller, potato-shaped asteroid in 2010 despite various setbacks during its epic seven-year odyssey, and was hailed as a scientific triumph.

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