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Japan space agency abuzz as Hayabusa2 sample capsule set to enter Earth's atmosphere

Members of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)'s Hayabusa2 mission team react with joy after confirmation that the probe's sample capsule had separated successfully ahead of its return to Earth, at ISAS' mission control room in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, on Dec. 5, 2020. (Photo courtesy of JAXA)

SAGAMIHARA, Kanagawa -- The head of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)'s Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS) was over the moon on Dec. 5 as the capsule carrying samples from the asteroid Ryugu successfully separated from the agency's Hayabusa2 spacecraft for its final descent to Earth.

    "I'm overwhelmed by deep emotion," ISAS chief Takashi Kubota said. "We've finally gotten this far, and I want to pass on my compliments to the entire Hayabusa2 team."

    According to Kubota, there were four factors that needed to be checked to confirm the capsule separation had gone successfully. First, did the probe implement the separation order on time? Second, were there any disturbances in the probe's positioning? Third, did the Hayabusa2's speed drop due to the capsule pushing off? And fourth, was there a detectable temperature rise from the detonation of the explosives to separate the capsule from the spacecraft?

    Waiting for the answers to these questions, all eyes in ISAS' Hayabusa2 mission control room in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, were glued to the data feed from the probe come 2:30 p.m., when the capsule separation was scheduled to take place.

    At just past 2:35 p.m., Hayabusa2 project manager Yuichi Tsuda announced, "The capsule separation sequence appears to have proceeded perfectly," sparking jubilation and much elbow-bumping -- a precaution against spreading the coronavirus -- among the team as Tsuda raised his arms in triumph.

    (Japanese original by Etsuko Nagayama, Opinion Group)

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