Currently in orbit around a very far asteroid, the Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa 2 will begin Wednesday its return trip, to bring back to Earth valuable samples likely to illuminate in a new light the formation of our solar system.
A capsule containing these samples is expected to return to Earth in late 2020, said Tuesday the Japanese Minister of Education and Science, Koichi Hagiuda.
Twice this year, Hayabusa 2, a refrigerator-sized craft, has achieved the feat of landing briefly on Ryugu, an asteroid located 340 million kilometers from the Earth, nearly 900 times the distance from the Earth to the moon.
The probe was able to collect dust samples both on the surface and in the subsoil of this pebble from the space of just 900 meters in diameter, whose origin dates back to the birth of the solar system there is 4.6 billion years.
The trip to Ryugu had taken three and a half years, but the return should be much shorter thanks to the greater proximity of the current orbital positions of the Earth and this asteroid.
Its samples are expected to be dropped in a desert in southern Australia, according to officials from the Japanese (Jaxa) and Australian (Asa) space agencies.
The total cost of its mission is estimated at 30 billion yen (about 250 million euros).
With its first probe Hayabusa ("Falcon" in Japanese), whose mission lasted from 2003 to 2010, the Jaxa had already managed to collect and bring back to Earth a little dust from another distant asteroid, Itokawa, at the end of many events that served as a lesson for Hayabusa 2.
© 2019 AFP