Call it a special delivery: after six years in space, Japan’s Hayabusa-2 probe is heading home, but only to drop off its rare asteroid samples before starting a new mission.
The fridge-sized probe, launched in December 2014, has already thrilled scientists by landing on and gathering material from an asteroid some 300 million kilometres (185 million miles) from Earth.
But its work isn’t over yet, with scientists from Japan’s space agency JAXA now planning to extend its mission for more than a decade and targeting two new asteroids.
Before that mission can begin, Hayabusa-2 needs to drop off its precious samples from the asteroid Ryugu — “dragon palace” in Japanese.
Scientists are hoping the capsule will contain around 0.1 grams of material that will