There and back again
Robotic sample return missions are growing increasingly commonplace
There’s only so much scientific equipment you can put on a spacecraft. To really get to know a space rock, you have to bring a piece back to Earth.
Two asteroid-investigating spacecraft are already hard at work. The first, Japan’s Hayabusa2, arrived at asteroid Ryugu in June 2018. The spacecraft has already taken two rock samples and is due to head home in late 2019, arriving back in December 2020. Once safely recovered, its cosmic cargo will be sent off to the world’s premier laboratories for close study.
Meanwhile, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx is taking its time at asteroid Bennu. OSIRIS-REx has been mapping the asteroid since December 2018 to find the perfect landing spot. In mid-2020 it will touch down then harvest dust by blasting the surface with nitrogen gas. The spacecraft is due to leave Bennu in March 2021, reaching Earth in 2023.
Meanwhile, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) is planning to launch its own sample return mission in 2020, this time to the Moon. The Chang’e 5 lander aims to return around 2kg of lunar material from up to 2m underground. However, launch is reliant on the uncertain future of the Long March 5 rocket.
OSIRIS-REx is scheduled to land on asteroid Bennu in 2020 to take samples