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Japan's Hayabusa2 makes precise orbital adjustment for Earth sample drop-off in December

TOKYO -- Japanese space probe Hayabusa2 has made an orbital adjustment using its chemical thrusters on Nov. 26 as part of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's (JAXA) plan for it to make a flyby return to Earth and drop off samples collected from the asteroid Ryugu.

    A capsule reportedly containing rocks and other materials from the asteroid will be released on the afternoon of Dec. 5, and is scheduled to land in the southern Australian desert before dawn the following day.

    This image shows the orbital adjustment of asteroid explorer Hayabusa2 in returning to Earth for a drop off of materials from Ryugu.

    Hayabusa2 is about 3.5 million kilometers away from Earth, and would likely have flown past Earth at an altitude of 290 km had the maneuvers not been made. The recent orbital adjustment was essential to bringing back the samples.

    Hayabusa2 fired its chemical engines for about 16 seconds from around 4 p.m. on Nov. 26, and later engaged it for an additional second for careful adjustment.

    Yuichi Tsuda, the Hayabusa2 project manager, explained, "We have to put the explorer in orbit over the Woomera area in Australia, where the capsule is scheduled to be dropped from 10 km above the ground. So we were being exceedingly cautious during the operation."

    In the latest mission, Hayabusa2 had to precisely change its orbital direction by turning 0.0085 degrees.

    Once the capsule is released, it's planned for Hayabusa2 to propel away from Earth instead of entering the atmosphere, and travel to its next destination: the asteroid 1998KY26.

    Meanwhile, the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan captured sight of Hayabusa2 from its Subaru Telescope on Hawaii's Big Island on Nov. 20 (local time), and later released the image. The photo showed the explorer about 5.8 million kilometers away from Earth, roughly 15 times the distance between Earth and the moon.

    (Japanese original by Etsuko Nagayama, Opinion Group)

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