On the 13th of June 2010, in the Australian outback, the first successfully returned asteroid samples touched down. The Hayabusa 1 mission suffered major technical setbacks, yet many scientific insights were still able to be gleaned from the tiny fragments of the S-type asteroid 25143 Itokawa. The partnership between Australia and Japan for this mission yielded remarkable results and set a top example for future sample return missions. Already, Hayabusa 2 is en route to asteroid 1999 JU3 for another sample return mission, arriving in 2018 and back on Earth in December 2020.
Japan has of course asked Australia if they can land their samples in Australia again. Australia’s response has supposedly been one along the lines of ‘We’ll think about it!’ Given the vast potential for the future of scientific sample return and asteroid mining, it is astounding that Australia take such a passive stance to such a remarkable opportunity, yet is typical of Australia’s space policy of late. If Japan goes elsewhere to land their samples, that would likely be a disaster for future partnerships with Australia.
When the regular iron, nickel and platinum group metal shipments start landing in another country which then reaps the benefits to their transportation and infrastructure industries, perhaps Australia will realise its mistake.