Samples of Asteroid Ryugu Contain More Than 20 Amino Acids

Artist's impression of the Hayabusa2 spacecraft touching down on the surface of the asteroid Ryugu. Credit: JAXA/Akihiro Ikeshita?

In 2014, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) dispatched its Hayabusa2 spacecraft to rendezvous with 162173 Ryugu, a Near-Earth Asteroid (NEA) that periodically passes close to Earth. In 2018, this sample-return mission reached Ryugu and spent the next year and a half studying its surface and obtaining samples from its surface and subsurface. By 2020, these samples made it back to Earth, where scientists began analyzing them in the hopes of learning more about the early history of the Solar System and answering key questions about the origins of life.

Earlier this year, the first results of the analysis showed that Ryugu is (as expected) rich in carbon, organic molecules, and volatiles (like water) and hinted at the possibility that it was once a comet. Based on a more recent analysis, eight teams of Japanese researchers (including one from JAXA) recently announced that Ryugu carries strains of no less than 20 different amino acids -the building blocks of DNA and life itself! These findings could provide new insight into how life is distributed throughout the cosmos and could mean that it is more common than previously thought.

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Japan’s Upcoming Mission Will Use a Vacuum to Get its Sample From Phobos

The Martian Moons eXploration (MMX) mission (courtesy: JAXA/NASA).

JAXA, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency, is carving out a niche for itself in sample-return missions. Their Hayabusa mission was the first mission to sample an asteroid when it brought dust from the asteroid Itokawa to Earth in 2010. Then its successor, Hayabusa 2, brought back a sample from asteroid Ryugu in 2020.

Now JAXA has the Martian moon Phobos in its sights and will send a spacecraft to sample it as soon as 2024. The mission is called Martian Moons eXploration (MMX), and it’ll use a pneumatic vacuum device to collect its samples.

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Japan’s Mission to Phobos Will Also Bring a Sample Home by 2029

Phobos, the larger of Mars' two moons, with the Stickney crater seen on the right side. Credit: HiRISE, MRO, LPL (U. Arizona), NASA

Japan’s space agency (JAXA) is gearing up for its Martian Moons eXploration (MMX) mission, with plans to have a sample from Mars’ moon Phobos return to Earth by 2029.  Mission scientists say they hope to find clues to the origins of Mars two moons, as well as Mars itself, and possibly even traces of past life.

“We think that the Martian moon, Phobos, is loaded with material lifted from Mars during meteorite impacts,” the MMX team said on Twitter. “By collecting this Phobos sample, MMX will help investigate traces of Martian life and the new era of Martian habitability exploration in the 2020s will begin.”

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Lunar Rovers! Transform and Roll Out!

Credit: JAXA/TOMY/Sony/Doshisha University

A number of missions are destined for the Moon before this decade is over. In addition to the Artemis Program, the European Space Agency (ESA), the China National Space Agency (CNSA), Roscosmos, and other space agencies have some ambitious plans of their own. These include sending robotic missions to characterize the local environment, scout out resources, and pave the way for permanent human outposts.

The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) also some very interesting lunar missions in mind. In addition to partnering with NASA on the Artemis Program and helping to create the Lunar Gateway, JAXA has the radical idea to send a transforming rover to the Moon. The data this rover collects will be used to inform the design of a pressurized rover that will allow for a sustained human presence on the Moon.

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JAXA Using Water Bottle Technology for Sample-Return Missions From the ISS

Artist's impression of the HRSC-II reentering Earth's atmosphere. Credit: JAXA

The International Space Station (ISS) is not only the largest and most sophisticated orbiting research facility ever built, it is arguably the most important research facility we have. With its cutting-edge facilities and microgravity environment, the ISS is able to conduct lucrative experiments that are leading to advances in astrobiology, astronomy, medicine, biology, space weather and meteorology, and materials science.

Unfortunately, the cost of transporting experiments to and from the ISS is rather expensive and something only a handful of space agencies are currently able to do. To address this, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and Tiger Corporation partnered in 2018 to create a new type of container that would cut the cost of returning samples to Earth. With the success of their initial design, JAXA and Tiger are looking to create a reusable version that will allow for regular sample returns from the ISS.

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Some of Hayabusa2’s Samples are as Big as a Centimeter

Soil Samples returned by the Hayabusa2 Spacecraft c. JAXA

A fireball hurtled across the sky on December 5th – the sample return capsule from the Hayabusa2 asteroid mission by JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency). The capsule landed in Woomera, a remote location in the Australian Outback. Earlier this month, the capsule’s sample containers revealed fine grain topsoil from asteroid 162173 Ryugu. A second sample container has since been opened that contains chunks up to an entire centimeter in size.

Soil Samples returned by the Hyabusa2 Spacecraft -c JAXA
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Even the Outside of Hayabusa 2’s Sample Capsule has Asteroid Debris on it

Hayabusa 2 artwork
An artist's conception shows Hayabusa 2's sample return capsule making its atmospheric re-entry as its mothership flies above. (JAXA Illustration)

On December 5th, 2020, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA) Hayabusa 2 mission sent a sample capsule home containing debris from the near-Earth asteroid (NEA) 162173 Ryugu. This was the culmination of the probe’s first six years in space, which launched in Dec. 2014 and rendezvoused with Ryugu in June 2018. While the probe sets its sights on its new targets, scientists will be busy analyzing the Ryugu sample.

One thing they noticed immediately after opening the shell on Monday (Dec. 21st) was the black sandy dust that lined the capsule’s outer shell. According to a statement issued by JAXA, the black sand is material taken from the surface of Ryugu. Considering what’s inside sample chamber A, it appears that the amount of material obtained by Hayabusa 2 is more substantial than previously thought.

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Earth’s toughest bacteria can survive unprotected in space for at least a year

Credit: Ott, E., Kawaguchi, Y., Kölbl, D. et al.

A remarkable microbe named Deinococcus radiodurans (the name comes from the Greek deinos meaning terrible, kokkos meaning grain or berry, radius meaning radiation, and durare meaning surviving or withstanding) has survived a full year in the harsh environment of outer space aboard (but NOT inside) the International Space Station. This plucky prokaryote is affectionately known by fans as Conan the Bacterium, as seen in this classic 1990s NASA article.

The JAXA (Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency) ISS module Kib? has an unusual feature for spacecraft, a front porch! This exterior portion of the space station is fitted with robotic equipment to complete various experiments in outer space’s brutal conditions. One of these experiments was to expose cells of D. radiodurans for a year and then test the cells to see if they not only would survive but could reproduce effectively afterward. D. radiodurans proved to be up to the challenge, and what a challenge it was!

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Hayabusa2’s Mission isn’t Over. It has a New Asteroid Target to Visit: 1998 KY26

An illustration of the asteroid 1998 KY26. Hayabusa2's mission has been extended and it will rendezvous with this asteroid in 2031. Image Credits: Auburn University/JAXA

In an expected move, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has announced a mission extension for their Hayabusa2 spacecraft. Hayabusa2 will be sent to rendezvous with another asteroid in a few years time.

It’s target is 1998 KY26, a near-Earth object (NEO) less than a kilometer in diameter. But it’ll take a while and some maneuvering around other objects in the Solar System to reach its goal. JAXA says the spacecraft will arrive at the asteroid in July 2031.

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Japan Is Sending a Lander to Phobos

Artist impression of the MMX spacecraft. Credit: JAXA.

Sending a mission to moons of Mars has been on the wish list for mission planners and space enthusiasts for quite some time. For the past few years, however, a team of Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) engineers and scientists have been working on putting such a mission together. Now, JAXA announced this week that the Martian Moon eXploration (MMX) mission has been greenlighted to move forward, with the goal of launching an orbiter, lander — and possibly a rover — with sample return capability in 2024.

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