In the early hours of Sunday 6 December, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) welcomed an arrival back from space.

The Australian outback played host for a return capsule from the JAXA Hayabusa2 space craft.

The spacecraft travelled for 6 years to the 4.6 billion year old asteroid Ryugu and then back to Earth.

The aim of the mission was to retrieve samples that may unlock secrets to how our solar system formed.

After a spectacular fireball in the sky the spacecraft’s sample return capsule landed in the Woomera Prohibited Area (WPA) in South Australia. The fireball was seen from the mining town of Coober Pedy.

Supported by the Australian Space Agency, with the Department of Defence, the mission marks a significant milestone for Australia as a trusted space partner with Japan. It also falls within a special year for Japan and Australia, as 2020 marks 40 years of treaty level science cooperation between our countries.

Hayabusa2 sample return capsule fireball. Photo credit: Mark Jessop

Minister for Industry, Science and Technology Karen Andrews said the mission strengthened Australia’s position as a desired partner for future international space missions.

“This is an incredible accomplishment for science and space and builds on our strong working relationship with JAXA, while also highlighting Australia as a nation with the trusted expertise to support international space missions.”

The Hayabusa2 spacecraft collected two samples from Ryugu. This included the first-ever subsurface asteroid sample. The samples will help scientists gain insights into our solar system through the rock, organic matter and water from Ryugu's surface. It will also help to further understand our oceans and life here on Earth.

Australian Space Agency Head Dr Megan Clark AC said the Agency was pleased to support JAXA to ensure a safe and successful mission.

“Our team helped coordinate efforts across the Commonwealth and South Australian governments to plan for the Hayabusa2 re-entry – amidst pandemic restrictions – while also implementing our regulatory role to support the safe and successful return and recovery of the sample capsule in Woomera.”

The Australian Department of Defence were critical in supporting the landing and recovery of the mission within the WPA. They also ensured the safety of all activities undertaken in the area. The Department of Defence and JAXA signed an agreement for JAXA to land the sample in the WPA in 2018.

CSIRO also provided tracking support for JAXA’s Hayabusa2 mission via NASA’s renowned Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex. CSIRO is now tracking the spacecraft as it begins a 10 year trip to a much smaller asteroid known as 1998 KY26, arriving there by 2031.

The Hayabusa2 sample return capsule departed Woomera by plane on 8 December. It arrived in Japan for the capsule opening. The research can now begin.

The successful recovery of the capsule is a historic milestone for the global space, science and research community. It is also significant for Australia and Japan’s cooperative relationship that spans many decades.

Our department recognises the First Peoples of this Nation and their ongoing cultural and spiritual connections to the lands, waters, seas, skies, and communities.

We Acknowledge First Nations Peoples as the Traditional Custodians and Lore Keepers of the oldest living culture and pay respects to their Elders past and present. We extend that respect to all First Nations Peoples.