Japan's Hayabusa-2 asteroid sampling mission to study another asteroid before return to Earth

Hayabusa 2 will be going on an 'extended mission' to study two other asteroids that are small and fast spinning.

The Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa 2 that was launched in December 2014 to study the near-Earth asteroid Ryugu and return samples from it to Earth, is about to return after a six-year-long mission. However, scientists at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) haven't taken to relaxing just yet, with the issue of its safe landing still to be monitored for the mission to be a success.

Earlier, JAXA and the Australian Space Agency had given out a joint statement announcing that the capsule of Hayabusa 2, returning with the sample from Ryugu, will land on earth on 6 December 2020, at the Woomera Range Complex in South Australia.

The area is an isolated stretch of land spanning 1,22,000 square kilometers and was also used by Hayabusa 2's predecessor Hayabusa for landing its capsule in 2010. This first capsule on the Hayabusa mission had managed to bring only a millionth of a gram of dust from the asteroid Itokawa. Though it was supposed to bring back a lot more, "multiple mishaps in deep space" had affected the results.

An illustration of Hayabusa-2 heading for Ryugu. Image credit: German Aerospace Center

An illustration of Hayabusa-2 heading for Ryugu. Image credit: German Aerospace Center

Hayabusa 2 had arrived at Ryugu in June 2018 and descended to the surface of the asteroid by February 2019. It had collected the sample and left for home in November 2019. Now when it reaches Earth in December, the craft will drop the sample capsule that has to steer safely out of the dangerous outer atmosphere and land using its parachutes.

On the other hand, Hayabusa 2 will be going on an "extended mission" to study two other asteroids. According to a tweet by the official handle of the Hayabusa 2 mission, "plans have been narrowed down to 2 possible candidate targets: asteroids 2001 AV43 or 1998 KY26".

Both of these asteroids are "small" and "fast spinning" objects, belonging to a type that has not been studied before.

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