There and back again

Ro­botic sam­ple re­turn mis­sions are grow­ing in­creas­ingly com­mon­place

Sky at Night Magazine - - FIELD OF VIEW -

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

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