Japan’s Hayabusa2 unmanned asteroid probe will be back in orbit around Earth and release a capsule believed to be containing samples from the asteroid Ryugu on Dec. 6, science minister Koichi Hagiuda said Tuesday.
The capsule is set to fall onto a desert in southern Australia using a parachute after entering the atmosphere at a speed of 12 kilometers per second. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, will dispatch a team to find and recover the capsule after reaching a formal agreement with the Australian government on the capsule’s landing.
“I hope the capsule will be recovered without any problem, bring about scientific achievements that would help solve the mystery of the origins of the solar system and life, and move many Japanese people,” Hagiuda told a news conference.
JAXA project manager Yuichi Tsuda told a separate news conference that he is starting to see “the end of the long journey.”
“This is a compilation of the Hayabusa2 project, so we’re determined to do our job without a mistake,” he said. “I hope the day will come when I can show you a fragment of Ryugu,” he added.
Hayabusa2 left Earth in 2014 and reached Ryugu in June 2018.
During the 18-month research period, it succeeded in creating an artificial crater on the surface of Ryugu and touching down on the asteroid twice to collect samples.
After releasing the capsule, Hayabusa2 will leave the orbit in another probe mission. JAXA is working on selecting a destination for the new mission by making a list of asteroids the spacecraft can reach with its remaining fuel.