Japan’s Hayabusa2 delivers rock samples from asteroid Ryugu

Hayabusa2 mission on asteroid Ryugu

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Hayabusa2 mission on asteroid Ryugu

In News:

  • A capsule (which was on Japan’s Hayabusa2 mission) containing samples from asteroid Ryugu has landed safely back to Earth.
  • Ryugu in Japanese means “Dragon Palace,” the name of a sea-bottom castle in a Japanese folk tale.

News Summary:

  • For the past six years, it has conducted a remarkable 5.2bn km mission to extract the first-ever sub-surface samples from the asteroid Ryugu.
  • In early hours of 6th December, as Hayabusa2 flew past Earth, it released the sample-return capsule (SRC) carrying pristine asteroid fragments from asteroid Ryugu.
  • The capsule landed safely back to Earth, in Australia as planned.
  • Meanwhile, Hayabusa2 spacecraft moved away from Earth as it set off on a new expedition to another distant asteroid called 1998KY26.
  • The capsule has both overground and underground samples.

Significance of the Mission:

  • This is the first time an underground sample from an asteroid, that has not been exposed to the sun or cosmic radiation, has been retrieved.
  • Scientists hope the asteroid samples from Ryugu may help answer fundamental questions about how water, and subsequently life, began on Earth.
    • Ryugu asteroid is considered extra special as it is thought to be the type of asteroid that carbonaceous meteorites come from.
    • Carbonaceous meteorites are the meteorites which contain carbon compounds, including organic ones and water.
  • Studying the samples from ‘Ryugu’ will reveal the make-up of early planets, including Earth.
    • Earth was formed close to the Sun, so it was formed dry and original Earth didn’t have water at all.
    • So something had to bring water to our planet to make it habitable.
    • Scientists say something like Ryugu brought water to Earth and made life possible.

About: Hayabusa2 Mission

  • Launched in 2014, Hayabusa2 is a Japanese spacecraft on a six-year mission to land on an asteroid Ryugu, and collect multiple samples from the asteroid and then return to Earth.
  • It is a follow-up to Japan’s first Hayabusa mission.
    • The first Hayabusa mission was the first spacecraft to take samples from an asteroid, and also the first mission to successfully land and take off from an asteroid. 
    • It returned the overground samples from asteroid 25143 Itokawa to Earth in 2010.

The Hayabusa2 Mission:

  • The mission includes a main spacecraft, small rovers, a lander, and an impactor that will be launched into the asteroid’s surface to create an artificial crater.
  • The Hayabusa 2 spacecraft arrived at the asteroid in June 2018.
  • MINERVA-II1:
    • In September 2018, the spacecraft deployed the MINERVA-II1 container onto the asteroid’s surface.
    • MINERVA stands for MIcro-Nano Experimental Robot Vehicle for Asteroid.
    • MINERVA-II1 contained:
      • Rover1A, named HIBOU (Highly Intelligent Bouncing Observation Unit)
      • Rover1B, named OWL (Observation unit with Intelligent Wheel Locomotion)
  • MINERVA-II-2:
    • A third rover, MINERVA II-2, failed on deployment in 2019.
  • MASCOT:
    • In October 2018, MASCOT, or Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout, was deployed.
    • MASCOT is a joint French-German lander that was also capable of hopping on the asteroid to relocate.
    • It made three hops and operated for 17 hours, collecting data on the asteroid’s composition.

Sample collection:

  • Surface sample: In February, 2019, Hayabusa2 briefly touched down on the surface of Ryugu, fired a tantalum pellet at the asteroid’s surface, and collected upward-flying material with its sampling mechanism.
  • Sub-surface sample: In April, 2019, it fired an explosive device at the asteroid and made a sub-surface sampling maneuver from the resulting crater.

Sample-return:

  • The spacecraft collected and stored the samples in separate sealed containers inside the sample-return capsule (SRC).
  • In November 2019, Hayabusa2 fired its ion engines putting it on track for a return to Earth.
  • In late 2020, during its fly past the Earth, Hayabusa2 was designated to release the capsule SRC, which will re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere and land in Australia.
  • The Hayabusa2 spacecraft will remain in solar orbit, post-Earth flyby.

Also Read: Seeking solar system’s secrets, NASA spacecraft briefly lands on asteroid

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