Hayabusa2 Fires Ion Engine During Trip Home

In December 2020, the Japanese Hayabusa2 spacecraft will return to Earth and, before entering the Earth’s atmosphere (during which it will burn up), will release a sealed capsule containing samples from two different locations on asteroid Ryugu, which, slowed down by the Earth’s atmosphere and a parachute, will land in Australia. (Credit: DLR)

TOKYO (JAXA PR) — The 2nd ion engine operation has begun. This is an important operation in the return journey of Hayabusa2 back to Earth. On May 12, 2020, the ion engine ignited at 07:00 (onboard time, JST) and was confirmed to be operating stably at 07:25 (ground time, JST).

Currently, only a single ion engine is operating as the spacecraft is far from the Sun, and receives a low level of solar power with which to operate the ion engines.

Schematic diagram of the Earth return orbit for Hayabusa2 and operations. (Credit: JAXA)

The 2nd ion engine operation will continue until around September this year. At the end of the operation, the spacecraft will be in an orbit that can deliver the capsule to Earth. After that—from October this year—we will perform precision guidance using the chemical thrusters (figure 1).

It is now only a short time before we return to Earth.