JAXA's Hayabusa2 Starts Its Long Journey Home, Returning with Asteroid Samples

After five years in space, Japan's space probe will be landing back on Earth in 2020.
Fabienne Lang

Japan's space agency, JAXA, stated that their space probe, Hayabusa2, left the Ryugu asteroid on Wednesday. Hayabusa2 has been observing and gathering samples from the asteroid, and it is projected to land back on Earth in late 2020. 

The return journey has been moved forward from the initial end of year plan, as Hayabusa2 accomplished its sample-gathering task ahead of schedule. 


Hayabusa2's story

Departing Ryugu at 10:05 am Japan time on Wednesday, Hayabusa2 has already begun its 800 million kilometer journey home. 

JAXA's mission manager, Makoto Yoshikawa, said: "We're grateful to (the Hayabusa2) for fulfilling its challenging missions, and we would like it to carry on with its final task (of this mission)."

Hayabusa2 was sent to space to gather information and samples to further enlighten astronomers about the formation of our solar system, as well as the origin of life. Probing an asteroid is essential to this task, as it's believed that the subsurface materials have kept their initial state since the time when the solar system was created 4.6 billion years ago. 

The plan is for Hayabusa2 to release a capsule that contains the samples it gathered on its mission, which is due to land in the South Australian desert next year.

As it left the asteroid, Hayabusa2 started traveling at 0.09 meters per second and will continue to capture images of the asteroid as it moves away. 

Its position will be adjusted on Monday, when it is 65 km away from Ryugu, out of the asteroid's gravitational pull. Following this, it will test its ion engine, through to 2 December, before gathering speed toward Earth.

What has Hayabusa2 accomplished?

"All of us are satisfied and have no complaints with what we accomplished," stated probe project manager Yuichi Tsuda. "We're grateful to the Ryugu asteroid and are honestly sad about leaving it."

It isn't the end of the line for Hayabusa2.

110 papers have already been written on the subject, thanks to the space probe's gathering of data and samples, and it is expected that many more scientific studies of asteroids will continue. 

Once the capsule is released, Hayabusa2 will set off on another mission.

Hayabusa2 left Earth in 2014 and reached Ryugu in June last year. It managed to touch down on Ryugu twice, collecting asteroid underground samples for the first time ever.

Upon reaching Earth, these samples could lead to scientific breakthroughs with regards to the creation of our solar system.

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