TOKYO – Japan’s space agency said its helicopter search team on Sunday retrieved a capsule carrying asteroid samples after it successfully landed in a remote area in southern Australia as planned.
The spacecraft Hayabusa2 released the small capsule on Saturday and sent it toward Earth to deliver samples from a distant asteroid that could provide clues to the origin of the solar system and life on our planet, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said.
“The capsule collection work at the landing site was completed,” the agency said in a tweet about four hours after the capsule landed. “We practiced a lot for today … it ended safe.”
The return of the capsule with the world’s first asteroid subsurface samples came weeks after NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft made a successful touch-and-go grab of surface samples from asteroid Bennu. China, meanwhile, announced this week that its lunar lander had collected underground samples and sealed them within the spacecraft for return to Earth.
Early Sunday, the capsule briefly turned into a fireball as it reentered the atmosphere 120 kilometers (75 miles) above Earth. About 10 kilometers (6 miles) above ground, a parachute was opened to slow its fall, and beacon signals were transmitted to indicate its location.
“It was great. … It was a beautiful fireball, and I was so impressed,” said JAXA’s Hayabusa2 project manager Yuichi Tsuda as he celebrated the successful capsule return and safe landing from a command center in Sagamihara, near Tokyo. “I’ve waited for this day for six years.”
About two hours after the capsule’s reentry, JAXA said its helicopter search team found the capsule in the planned landing area. The retrieval of the pan-shaped capsule, about 40 centimeters (15 inches) in diameter, was completed about two hours later.
The fireball could be seen from the International Space Station. Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi, who is now on a six-month mission there, tweeted: “Just spotted #hayabusa2 from #ISS! Unfortunately not bright enough for handheld camera, but enjoyed watching capsule!”
Source: Voice Of America