The Japanese space explorer Hayabusa2 is about to complete a six-year, 5.1-billion-kilometre journey, when it releases a capsule down to Earth in the Australian desert. And when the capsule, carrying precious samples of a 4.5-billion-year-old asteroid finally makes its landing at the Woomera test range in South Australia, a Japanese recovery team will be there waiting. The capsule will be released by the Hayabusa2 spacecraft into the upper atmosphere, where it is due to parachute into the Woomera test range on December 6. It’s expected to land within a 100-150km area where it will send a radio signal that the Japanese team will track down.
Launched on December 3, 2014, Hayabusa-2 is the second such “return exploration” mission by JAXA. It arrived at the Ryugu asteroid in June 2018, which it shadowed for a year and a half, deploying purposely built “hopping” rovers to explore the surface. Hayabusa-2, which means “peregrine falcon” in Japanese, then performed a delicate operation to take samples from Ryugu’s surface before departing on November 2019 for its return trip. After nearing Earth to drop the capsule, Hayabusa will fire its engines to adjust course to manoeuvre past our planet and continue its exploration of the solar system.