The Outback of South Australia has been named at the landing site for the Japanese-built Hayabusa2 space probe when it returns to Earth following its historic mission to the Ryugu near-Earth asteroid.
The craft is scheduled to land at the RAAF-controlled Woomera Range Complex on 6 December this year. The 122 188km2 site is approximately 450km north-west of Adelaide.
Hayabusa2’s landing details were confirmed this week in a joint statement issued by Dr Hiroshi Yamakawa, President of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (Jaxa) and Dr Megan Clark, Head of the Australian Space Agency.
Returns from surface of asteroid 350-million km away
Its descent at Woomera will mark the end of a six-year mission to Ryugu, a 900m-wide asteroid located around 350-million km from Earth.
Hayabusa2 returns with samples of both the surface and subsurface of the asteroid. The surface samples were collected in February 2019. The sub-surface samples were collected in July of the same year, but only after the spacecraft had first fired a copper ‘bullet’ into the surface in order to expose the material below.
The spacecraft left the surface of Ryugu in November 2019 to begin its long journey back toward Earth.
Scientists are eager to examine the space material
According to the website Space.com, “planetary scientists are eager to get the Ryugu material into their labs here on Earth, where it can be studied in great detail with a variety of powerful instruments”.
The Ryugu samples could shed considerable light on asteroid formation and evolution, as well as the role that carbon-rich space rocks may have played in helping life get going on Earth, researchers believe.
“Successfully realising this epoch-making sample-return mission is a great partnership between Australia and Japan and will be a symbol of international cooperation and of overcoming the difficulties and crisis caused by the pandemic,” the two agencies said in their joint statement.
The statement added that “the Agency and Jaxa are working through Jaxa’s application for Authorisation of Return of Overseas Launched Space Object, which will need to be approved [by the Australian government] under the Space Activities Act (1998)”.