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Japanese spacecraft to return to Earth

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Japanese spacecraft to return to Earth

hayabusa2
Photo: Akihiro Ikeshita/ JAXA

The Japanese Space Agency JAXA will receive an interplanetary delivery today from the Hayabusa2 space probe, which is scheduled to fly past Earth today after six years in space.

Launched in 2014, Hayabusa2 reached the Ryugu asteroid in 2018 and in 2019 the probe landed on the surface of the asteroid to collect dust samples and analyse its internal composition. These samples will allow scientists to better understand how matter is distributed throughout the solar system.

Although scientific in nature, asteroid sample missions are also helping identify the greatest economic opportunities in the solar system. This Japanese mission is not the first sample return; previous expeditions have indicated that asteroids contain millions of tons of precious and rare earth metals, with the most valuable asteroid worth an estimated $15 quintillion, or 192,000 times global GDP. While the 1967 Outer Space Treaty prohibits the commercialisation of space, in 2015 the US Congress passed legislation to allow American companies to exploit space resources, and other countries are following this precedent. As private companies and countries like the UAE define the space economy as national strategic goals, expect increasing commercial space activity, with a metaphorical—and literal—gold rush for whoever reaches these space resources first.

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