A very special shooting star crossed the sky in Australia last Saturday (5). It was the return capsule of the Japanese Hayabusa2 mission, which, after six years in the solar system, returned samples from the asteroid Ryugu for detailed scientific investigation.
The “flying saucer” of only 40 centimeters and 16 kg penetrated the earth’s atmosphere furiously at around 40,000 km / h, but the heat shield held up and the landing took place as planned with the help of parachutes in the desert region of South Australia, nearby by Woomera. A helicopter flew to the rescue, which happened a few hours later. Now the material is being returned to Japan, where it can reveal secrets about how the solar system was formed and possibly the origin of life on earth.
The Ryugu, the mission’s target, has a diameter of about 1 km and belongs to the category of carbonaceous asteroids that are rich in carbon. Its origin, like that of the vast majority of such stars, dates back to the time the planets were formed 4.5 billion years ago and could help elucidate the organic chemistry available at the time that sowed the earth and possibly made life possible . over here. This is the first time scientists have had access to such material for laboratory studies.
It was an incredible mission and, unlike its predecessor, Hayabusa, virtually flawless. The Japanese space agency Jaxa clearly took the term “lessons learned” seriously and even speculative experiments went very well.
The Hayabusa2 capsule in the Australian desert after driving 5 billion km. (Image credit: Jaxa)
In total, Hayabusa2 covered more than 5.2 billion kilometers. It was launched in December 2014 and hit Ryugu in 2018 after flying over Earth in 2015 to adjust its trajectory and speed.
While in operation, the spacecraft launched a total of four experimental mini-rovers on its surface, only one of which did not work (it crashed before it was even deployed). The results were valuable in finding ways to explore the surface of low-gravity objects such as asteroids.
In addition to remote sensing, Hayabusa2 made two landings in February and July 2019 to collect samples, the second of which after literally shooting at the asteroid and opening an artificial crater to collect unexposed material. All of this to capture a total of about 100 milligrams of asteroids – tiny amount, immense value.
The spacecraft left Ryugu on November 12, 2019 and began its journey back to Earth with its ionic propellants that have now brought it back. The sample capsule was released and re-entered the atmosphere, but the spaceship itself “missed” our planet, as previously planned. Of the 66 kg of the match, about 30 kg of xenon (propellant used in engines) are still contained. Half a tank, which means that there is still a lot of life to be taken from the probe. It should now be directed to an expanded mission where it will visit two new asteroids, 2001 CC21 in 2026 and 1998 KY26 in 2031.
This column is published in Folha Corrida on Mondays.
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