The Japanese space agency is nearing the end of its discovery mission, which aims to shed light on the early days of the solar system and provide clues about the origin of life on Earth.
But first, it will have to go on a scavenger hunt outside of Australia.
This weekend, an asteroid bits will land in an arid area near Woomera, South Australia. Launched in 2014 by the Japanese space agency Jaxa, the robotic spacecraft Hayapusa 2 will carry them to Earth, exploring the asteroid Ryu, a dark, carbon-rich rock just over half a mile wide.
The success of this mission and the science it creates will elevate Japan’s position as a central player in deep space research in collaboration with NASA, the European Space Agency and Russia. Jaxa currently owns a spacecraft around Venus, studying the planet’s infernal climate and collaborating with Europeans on a voyage to Mercury.
In the coming years, Japan plans to bring back rocks from Bobos, the moon of Mars, and contribute to NASA’s Artemis project to send astronauts to Earth’s moon.
But the immediate challenge is looking dark into the 16-inch-wide capsule, which has asteroid samples somewhere between hundreds of square miles in a region 280 miles north of the nearby big city of Adelaide.
Shoko Tachibana, the lead investigator responsible for the analysis of the Hayabusa 2 models, said: “This is not really anywhere in the middle. He is part of a team of more than 70 people from Japan who came to Womera to retrieve the capsule. The area, used by the Australian military for testing, offers a wide open space that is ideal for returning to a planetary survey.
When the small return capsule was 125,000 miles from Earth, it was detached from the main spacecraft 12 hours before the planned landing. Jaxa Will broadcast live The landing of the capsule begins at 11:30 a.m. Saturday. (It will be early Sunday morning in Australia.)
The capsule is expected to hit the ground a few minutes before noon.
In an interview, mission manager Makoto Yoshikawa said there was an uncertainty about about 10 kilometers or six miles in pointing to where the capsule would re-enter the atmosphere. At an altitude of six miles, the capsule would release a parachute, adding to the uncertainty of where it would go when it landed.
“The place of landing depends on the wind that day,” Dr. Yoshikawa said. He said the area to be covered by searchers could extend about 60 miles.
The path of the superheated air fireball created by the re-entering capsule will guide the rescue team, as well as the radio beacon of the capsule. The task becomes more difficult if the beacon fails or fails to use a parachute.
There is little urgency. The team hopes to recover the capsule, make an initial analysis, and return to Japan within 100 hours. Even if the capsule is sealed, it is worrying that the earth’s air will slowly leak inside. “There is no proper seal,” said Dr. Dachipana.
Once the capsule is found, a helicopter will take it to a laboratory set up at the Australian Air Force base in Womera. An instrument will extract any gas inside the capsule, which can be released by asteroid rocks as they are shaken and broken when they re-enter. Dr. Yoshikawa said scientists would also like to be able to detect sunlight particles of helium falling on meteors and embedded in rocks.
These gases will also assure scientists that Hayapusa 2 has successfully collected samples from Ryu. A minimum of 0.1 grams or less than 1/280 an ounce is required to declare success. Hope the spacecraft brought back several grams.
In Japan, the Hayabusa 2 team will begin analyzing Ryu models. In about a year, some samples will be shared with other scientists for further study.
To collect these samples, Hayapusa asteroid arrived on 2 June 2018. It carried out a series of investigations, each of which was technically complex. It dropped probes on the surface of Ryukyu, exploded a hole in the asteroid and landed on the surface twice to see below the asteroid captured small fragments, which proved to be more challenging than expected due to the many boulders on the surface.
Masaki Fujimoto, deputy director of the Space and Astronomical Institute, part of Jaxa, said planetary scientists who focused on studying planets were less interested in smaller worlds like Ryu. “Small bodies, who cares?” he said. “But if you’re serious about creating planetary systems, small bodies are really important.”
Studying the water trapped in the minerals from Ryuku could give clues as to whether the water in the Earth’s oceans came from asteroids, and carbon-based molecules could have sown life blocks.
A portion of the Ryu model will go to NASA, which with its Osiris-Rex mission will bring some rocks and soil from another asteroid. The OSIRIS-REX space probe is studying a small carbon-rich asteroid called Pennu, which will launch to Earth next spring and drop its rock samples in September 2023.
Ryuku and Pennu were remarkably similar in some ways, both of which looked like spiral tops and surfaces covered with boulders, but different in other ways. One of the rocks in Ryuku seems to have very little water. The significance of the similarities and differences will not become clear until scientists study the rocks in more detail.
“When the Osiris-Rex model returns, we will learn lessons from the Hayapusa 2 mission,” said Harold C. Snyder, a geography professor at Rowan University in New Jersey and a mission model scientist at Osiris-Rex. Connolly Jr. said. “The similarities and differences are absolutely fascinating.”
Dr. Connolly hopes to go to Japan next summer to participate in the analysis of the Ryu models.
Hayabusa 2 is not Japan’s first planetary mission. In fact, its name indicates the presence of Hayabusa, which brought samples from Idokawa on a previous trip. But that work, which began in 2003 and returned in 2010, faced major technical problems. Jaxa’s Akatsuki spacecraft is currently in orbit around Venus, which the Japanese company was able to recover for a scientific mission after many years of difficulties. A Japanese mission to Mars failed in 2003.
In contrast, the functions of the Hayapusa 2 have gone almost flawlessly, while retaining the same general design as its predecessor. “Actually, there are no major problems,” said Dr. Yoshikawa, the mission manager. “Small, of course.”
The team examined Hayabusa’s failures in detail, made changes as needed, and conducted several rehearsals, trying to anticipate any coincidences it might encounter.
Japanese missions typically run on smaller budgets than NASA, and thus often have fewer tools. The cost of the Hayapusa 2 is less than $ 300 million, while the OSIRIRS-Rex is priced at around $ 1 billion.
Dropping the Ryu models is not the end of the Hayabusa 2 journey. After releasing the return capsule, the main spacecraft changed course to avoid a collision with Earth, missing 125 miles. It will now travel to another asteroid, a smaller one designated 1998 KY26, which is only 100 feet in diameter but rotates fast, completing one cycle in 11 minutes.
Hayabusa 2 will use two of Earth’s flies to orbit KY26 and finally arrive in 2031. It will carry out some astronomical experiments and spacecraft during its deep space travel It still has the last missile to use To test the surface of that space rock.