Japan's Hayabusa2 spacecraft all set to deliver Ryugu asteroid samples to Earth Sunday, December 6

IMAGE: A computer graphic simulation provided by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) shows the Hayabusa2 spacecraft above the asteroid Ryugu. Japan's space agency said Friday they are ready for the spacecraft′s final approach to Earth this weekend to deliver a capsule that comtains samples of a distant asteroid. Scientists hope those samples will provide clues to the origin of the solar system.

Officials with Japan's space agency said Friday that JAXA's Hayabusa2 spacecraft is right on target approaching Earth, where it is scheduled to deliver a capsule containing samples from asteroid Ryugu, which is 180 million miles from earth. Scientists are hoping those samples could provide clues to the origin of life, and the beginnings of the solar system.

From the Associated Press:

The spacecraft left the asteroid Ryugu, about 300 million kilometers (180 million miles) away, a year ago. The capsule is to be released 220,000 kilometers (136,700 miles) away in space and land in a remote, sparsely populated area of Woomera, Australia, on Sunday.

Hayabusa2 is flying smoothly according to plan, Yuichi Tsuda, project manager at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, said at a briefing ahead of the critical separation of the capsule from the spacecraft on Saturday.

"We trained ourselves and now we are fully prepared. So I'm just praying that equipment that hasn't been used yet will work well and that there will be good weather in Australia," he said. "We are so excited."

In the early hours of Sunday, the capsule, protected by a heat shield, will briefly turn into a fireball as it reenters the atmosphere 120 kilometers (75 miles) above Earth. At about 10 kilometers (6 miles) above ground, a parachute will open to slow its fall and beacon signals will be transmitted to indicate its location.

JAXA staff have set up satellite dishes at several locations in the target area to receive the signals, while also preparing marine radar, drones and helicopters to assist in the search and retrieval of the pan-shaped capsule, 40 centimeters (15 inches) in diameter.

Read more at the Associated Press.

PHOTO: JAXA. Japan crew members set up antenna in the preparation for the operation for the capsule collection in Woomera, South Australia in November, 2020. The Hayabusa2 spacecraft left the asteroid Ryugu, about 300 million kilometers (180 million miles) from Earth, a year ago and is expected to reach Earth and drop a capsule containing the precious samples in southern Australia on Dec. 6.