Above: Artist’s impression of Hayabusa2 nearing Earth in December 2020. Image ©Akihiro Ikeshita.

AUSTRALIA HAS GIVEN the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) official approval to land the sample-return module of its Hayabusa2 spacecraft on Australian soil in December.

The spacecraft, which was launched in 2014, is bringing back samples it collected from asteroid Ryugu.

When it nears Earth towards the end of this year, Hayabusa2 will detach the sample-return module, which will enter Earth’s atmosphere and — protected by a heatshield and decelerated by parachutes — land in the Woomera Prohibited Area in South Australia on December 6.

“I am delighted to have given the tick of approval for the Hayabusa2 to land at the Woomera Prohibited Area and am thrilled JAXA has chosen to partner with us on the capsule’s re-entry,” said the federal Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, Karen Andrews.

“This mission is a very important scientific and technical feat, as the first ever sub-surface asteroid sample to be returned to Earth.

“This landing will enable scientists to gain insights into the origin and evolution of the Solar System including organic matter and water, which could hint at how our oceans came to be.

“It also reinforces Australia’s place as a trusted partner in space, as we look to triple the size of the local sector and create 20,000 new jobs by 2030.”

According to Dr Megan Clark AC, head of the Australian Space Agency, the Hayabusa2 mission is furthering the two nations’ relationship in space activities.

“This is an exciting mission; our regulatory role is to ensure the safety of space activities. More broadly, we have been supporting JAXA by co-ordinating efforts across the Commonwealth and South Australian Government to plan for the sample capsule’s recovery and return to Japan,” she said.

“We would like to express our sincere gratitude for the support of the Australian Government as well as multiple organisations in Australia for their cooperation,” added Dr Hiroshi Yamakawa, JAXA President.

You can read more about the Hayabusa2 mission in our earlier story here.