A Japanese space capsule carrying large quantities of rock from the asteroid Ryugu has landed back on Earth, more specifically, near Woomera in South Australia. According to BBC News, the capsule was captured on camera streaking across the sky before parachuting down to the ground. It was subsequently found at 19:47 UTC after it transmitted a beacon which was tracked from a helicopter.
The capsule which came back to Earth had been attached to the Hayabusa-2 spacecraft that originally collected the samples which weigh more than 100 grams. Hayabusa-2 detached the capsule at an altitude of around 200km. The capsule then came through the atmosphere with a fiery tail travelling at 11km/s before deploying its parachute and separating its heat shield. As it got closer to the Earth, a beacon began transmitting so that it could be found.
WHY, HELLO SAMPLE CAPSULE! ☄️— Elizabeth Tasker (@girlandkat) December 5, 2020
The capsule weighs about 16 kg and is about 40 x 20 cm in size. The light is from the heat shield, which should have reached temperatures of around 3000°C during atmospheric re-entry, protecting the sample from such crazy temperatures. pic.twitter.com/7VqBeRk5KE
The 16kg capsule will undergo examination in Australia and then it’ll go to a JAXA facility in Sagamihara for further analysis and storage. The cargo that it’s carrying is significant because it will help scientists learn more about the history of the Solar System but also about asteroids like Ryugu.
Hayabusa-2 was launched on December 3, 2014, and rendezvoused with Ryugu on June 27, 2018. It spent about 18 months surveying the asteroid and took the samples. It began its return last November before arriving back several hours ago.