In less than 48 hours, a 16-inch-wide steel capsule will do just that, rocketing through the atmosphere before unfurling a parachute and gently landing in a sparsely populated area of the Australian outback. Locked inside is ancient cargo — pieces of a 4.6 billion-year-old near-Earth asteroid collected by Hayabusa2, the star spacecraft in the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency fleet.
Over the past six years, Hayabusa2 has achieved an extraordinary engineering triumph, filled with exhilarating firsts. It visited the dark, enigmatic Ryugu, an asteroid orbiting between Earth and Mars, and landed hopping robots on its surface. It imaged the exterior of the asteroid in exquisite detail and blasted a hole in its side with a copper cannonball. But the mission’s masterstroke was sampling material from that wound it created in Ryugu’s side — the first time a spacecraft has snatched rock from beneath an asteroid’s surface.
The spacecraft’s achievements are some of the most valuable in the history of deep space exploration, akin to NASA’s feats of landing rovers on Mars or exploring Pluto and its moons up close. On a smaller budget than NASA’s, with a much smaller team, Japan wrote its way into space history. Yet for the mission to be considered a complete success, the team must land Hayabusa2’s sample capsule safely back on solid ground.
Fujimoto, the deputy director general of JAXA’s Institute of Space and Aeronautical Science, is responsible for bringing the spacecraft and its samples home. Trained as a theoretical physicist, he’s leading the sample capsule recovery from the ground in Australia, overseeing nearly 80 scientists and engineers who have descended on the tumbledown outback town of Woomera.
Read More: https://www.cnet.com/features/asteroid-ryugu-hayabusa2-history-making-mission-journey-to-the-dragon-palace/