The Hayabusa2 mission is about to reach the Earth with the samples from the Ryugu asteroid. It will drop the capsule containing the materials collected from the asteroid in southern Australia on December 6. The samples obtained during the mission can lead to a better study of the universe’s origin and solar system. The JAXA scientists believe that the mission will also provide valuable data about the samples as they are unaffected by space radiations and environmental factors.
Hayabusa 2 is a Japanese mission launched on December 3, 2014. Developed for six years, Hayabusa2 had to study the asteroid Ryugu and to collect samples to bring to Earth for analysis. It arrived at the asteroid in June 2018. Hayabusa2 carried multiple science payloads for remote sensing, sampling, and four small rovers. Some of the instruments in Hayabusa2 are:
- Multispectral cameras
- Near-infrared spectrometer
- Thermal infrared imager
- Laser altimeter
- Separation camera
- MicrOmega infrared microscope
- Wide-angle camera
These payloads and space-science instruments investigated the Ryugu asteroid surface to understand the environmental and geological factors existing in the asteroid.
How Hayabusa2 studied Ryugu?
After reaching Ryugu on June 27, 2018, it deployed the MINERVA-II1 (MIcro-Nano Experimental Robot Vehicle for Asteroid) container onto the asteroid’s surface. The rovers present in the MINERVA-II1 took the pictures and read the temperature of the surface. In February 2019, after Hayabusa2 reached the Ryugu asteroid, it fired an impactor towards the asteroid’s surface. The impactor exploded just before the surface to fire a metallic bullet. The speed of the metallic bullet was more than six times the speed of sound on Earth. The metallic shot created a crater on the surface, therefore, easing it for Hayabusa to collect the soil sample from the asteroid. Using instruments like MicrOmega infrared microscope would help the scientists to have micro-analysis of the samples.
Ryugu is a diamond-shaped space rock and belongs to the C-type category of asteroids. C-type asteroids have a very low albedo due to carbon as its primary component. Other components of C-type asteroids are hydrogen, helium, and some volatile compounds. Due to low albedo (low reflective capacity and high absorptive power), these asteroids are less detectable than D-type and S-type asteroids. Around 80% of the asteroids near 3.5 au from the Sun are C-type asteroids. The spectral absorption gives some fascinating data about Ryugu that there can be a presence of water. Ryugu is a potentially hazardous asteroid (PHA) due to its distance from the Earth. The diameter of the Ryugu asteroid is 1 kilometer (0.6 mi).
The Hayabusa2 mission plan took three and a half years to reach the Ryugu asteroid. However, it took only one and a half years to return because of the current distance between the Earth and Ryugu. Hayabusa2 will drop its capsule near the sparsely populated area of southern Australia. Protected by the heat shield, the capsule, once dropped, will turn into a fireball once it enters the atmosphere. Just before 10km from the Earth’s surface, it will open the parachute, and the beacon signal will get activated. The beacon will transmit the signal to indicate the position of the capsule. After dropping the capsule, Hayabusa2 will return to space to collect samples from another distant small asteroid called 1998KY26.