Successful weekend for Japan and China space projects
China and Japan have had great success over the weekend with their respective space missions: a Japanese space tablet brought samples to Earth for the first time from an asteroid’s underground.
(sda / dpa)
Around the same time, a Chinese module filled with lunar rocks docked in the orbit of a robot-controlled Earth satellite aboard the spacecraft “Chang 5”. These samples must also be brought to earth.
After disembarking from the Hayabusa 2 spacecraft, the small Japanese capsule fired like a ball of fire through the night air and landed in a desert in southern Australia on Sunday morning (local time), the Japanese space agency Jaxa said. Researchers expect 4.6 billion – year – old objects in a container from the asteroid Ruge, which originated in the early days of the Solar System.
After being retrieved from the Australian Wumara test site for aerospace, the capsule should first be inspected for its condition. A plane had to move the still-sealed container to the IAAS laboratory at the Jaxa Research Station in Sagamihara, near Tokyo. Only then can a robot open the capsule containing a cosmic commodity in a clean room laboratory in a vacuum chamber.
The German Aerospace Center (DLR) participated in the mission with the “Mascot” lander, developed in collaboration with the French space agency CNS. It landed in Tuvalu in 2018 and explored the asteroid. “This is a historic moment for space exploration,” said Anke Kaiser-Pisalla, CEO of DLR, who returned the capsule.
In Japan, micro, mineral and geochemical analyzes will first curate and describe the components of samples before mid-2021. Jaxa will make some samples available to NASA and researchers in other countries by 2022 and the DLR is planning an investigation.
Mission Manager Makoto Yoshikawa said the samples may contain organic matter. The focus is on amino acids, the basic building blocks of life. For example, analyzes should also clarify whether a large amount of water was brought to Earth when asteroids such as Ryugu landed.
In 2010, a previous investigation revealed that Hayabusa (Peregrine Falcon) was the first to bring soil samples from an asteroid to Earth. The successor “Hayabusa 2” was launched in Japan at the end of 2014, reaching its destination some 300 million kilometers away almost four years later. The probe arrived in Rugby and collected samples from the surface and areas below the surface.
Soil samples were stored in separate compartments in the capsule. The capsule was detached as “Hayabusa 2” flew over Earth over the weekend. Ten kilometers above Australia, a parachute was opened, in which the capsule floated to Earth, emitting radio signals and used by a Jaxa team helicopter to locate it.
Unlike the first “Hayabusa” burned when it entered Earth’s atmosphere, “Hayabusa 2” continues its mission: it is now on its way to Earth’s nearest asteroid “1998 KY26”. The investigation should get there within ten years.
After the unmanned moon landing, China has now succeeded in the robot-controlled docking plot of a spaceship orbiting the Earth’s satellite. During the ascent phase, two kilograms of moon rock was brought to the spacecraft “Chang 5” and stored in a return capsule, the official Xinhua news agency reported. The module was disconnected again. This is the first successful docking strategy in lunar orbit without an astronaut since the manned moon landing in the USA in the 60s and 70s.
The spacecraft orbited the moon on Sunday and waited for the right moment to return to Earth. Landing is expected in Inner Mongolia in the middle of the month. This is the first time in 44 years that rock samples have been brought back to Earth from the Moon.
If the comeback is successful, China will be the third country after the USA and the Soviet Union to succeed in such a project. U.S. Apollo missions bring back 380 kilograms of lunar rock. The Soviet Union collected 300 grams with unmanned missions. Chang 5 was launched at the end of November from the Wenchang space station in the southern Chinese island of Hainan.