Japan’s Hayabusa 2 probe zoomed past Earth today and dropped off a capsule containing bits of an asteroid, finishing a six-year round trip.
But the mission is far from over: While Hayabusa 2’s parachute-equipped sample capsule descended to the Australian Outback, its mothership set a new course for an encounter with yet another asteroid in 2031.
Hayabusa 2’s prime objective was to deliver bits of Ryugu, an asteroid that’s currently 7.2 million miles from Earth. Mission controllers at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, cheered and laughed when word came that the capsule had survived atmospheric re-entry.
Imagery captured by tracking cameras — and from the International Space Station — showed the capsule streaking like a fireball across the sky as it decelerated from an initial speed of more than 26,000 mph.