Japan’s space agency will land a capsule carrying samples from a 4.5 billion-year-old asteroid in the South Australian Outback later this year.
JAXA has been given permission to land its Hayabusa2 capsule near Woomera in December.
It comes just months after Australia and Japan signed an agreement for closer co-operation on space.
It will be the second time JAXA has landed a capsule in the SA desert, with the first Hayabusa capsule landing near Woomera in 2010.
This capsule is expected to land in the Woomera Prohibited Area on December 6.
It has been in space for five-and-a-half years on a mission to study the Ryugu asteroid and to collect samples to bring back to Earth for testing.
The Hayabusa2 will contain the first sub-surface asteroid sample to be returned to Earth.
Federal Industry Minister Karen Andrews, who officially signed off on JAXA’s request this week, said: “This landing will enable scientists to gain insights into the origin and evolution of the solar system, including organic* matter and water, which could hint at how our oceans came to be.”
Australian Space Agency boss Megan Clark said the Hayabusa2 project was an “exciting mission” and would be important for expanding Australian collaboration with Japan on space.
“We have been supporting JAXA by co-ordinating efforts across the commonwealth and South Australian Government to plan for the sample capsule’s recovery and return to Japan,” Dr Clark said.
JAXA president Hiroshi Yamakawa said the approval was “a significant milestone*” and thanked the Australian government for its co-operation.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his Japanese counterpart* Shinzo Abe signed a deal for closer co-operation on space last month.
HAYABUSA2 AND RYUGU
Ryugu (full name 162173 Ryugu) is named after Ryugu-jo, or dragon’s palace — a magical undersea palace in a Japanese folk tale.
Hayabusa2 launched in December 2014, travelled for three years and six months and arrived at Ryugu on June 27, 2018.
At this stage of its life, Ryugu orbits the Sun between Earth and Mars and when Hayabusa2 arrived it was 300 million km from Earth.
Hayabusa2 spent 16 months orbiting the asteroid.
In February 2019 JAXA bounced Hayabusa2 down to the surface of Ryugu, where it launched two rovers and a small lander onto the surface.
Hayabusa2 fired an impactor* into the asteroid to create a crater. This allowed the collection of a sample from beneath the surface of the asteroid.
The spacecraft was then bounced back into orbit.
Asteroids are bits and pieces leftover from the gas and dust that formed around the Sun when it was young. Studying what an asteroid such as Ryugu is made from helps scientists learn what the early Solar System was like, how the Earth formed and how life began.
Japanese space explorer arrives at asteroid after three-year journey
- organic: from living or once-living things
- milestone: marks an important stage of a process
- counterpart: person or thing that has the same function in another setting
- impactor: an object that crashes into something else
- How is Australia involved in this mission?
- What does the name Ryugu mean?
- Explain the process for collecting the sample.
- Where is Ryugu?
- Why would scientists study Ryugu?
LISTEN TO THIS STORY
1. Collaborating in Space
Work with a partner and write a list of the possible benefits for Australia to collaborate closer with Japan on space projects, including this one.
If studying this asteroid did answer some big questions about the Solar System and how Earth formed, how would Australia’s involvement be credited?
Time: allow 15 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: Science, Critical and creative thinking, Personal and social
Why do you think the South Australian desert is an ideal landing place for this capsule? What do you think the ‘prohibited’ area means?
Time: allow 10 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Critical and creative thinking
Opener Up-Level It
Make a list of all the openers in the article. Pick three that repeat and see if you can replace them with another word, or shuffle the order of the sentence to bring a new opener to the front.
Don’t forget to re-read the sentence to make sure it still makes sense, and that it actually sounds better.
HAVE YOUR SAY: What job would you like to do for the Hayabusa2 mission?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.