After six years space the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft will return to earth on 6 December 2020.The cargo of the spacecraft contain are, precious, and hard-won 100 milligrams of material collected from the surface of asteroid Ryugu. The spacecraft will drop the capsule containing the sample to Earth. This will be done at the dusty desert town of Woomera, in the South Australian desert. The spacecraft will then continue to visit more asteroid targets.
Hayabusa2’s return is a milestone as it completed a journey of 5.24 billion kilometres. Asteroid Ryugu – formerly known as 1999 JU3 – is on an elliptical orbit that carries it just inside Earth’s orbital path around the Sun, and out almost as far as Mars’ orbit.
The planning of the trip of Hayabusa2 involved calculation of the location of asteroid in future, path of the spacecraft and use of Earth’s gravity for bursts of acceleration.
The team to collect the cargo has cleared their two-week COVID-19 quarantine arrived at the Woomera Royal Australian Air Force base last week, and started preparations for the landing and retrieval.
The only other mission that has successfully returned with asteroid sample is JAXA’s original Hayabusa mission to asteroid Itokawa in 2010.