Japan shows probe landing on asteroid to collect samples

The Japanese space agency JAXA has published a video showing the Hayabusa2 spacecraft landing on Ryugu, with the aim of collecting material from the asteroid. Whether the latter has succeeded will only become clear in 2020. The landing took place on February 22.

The video from the Japanese space agency JAXA, played five times faster than actual time, shows the probe landing on Ryugu in an attempt to pick up material from the asteroid. The images were taken with a small camera on board the spacecraft. This camera was built and added to Hayabusa2 on the basis of donations. The probe had a speed of 10cm/s in the last phase of its descent and then ascended again at 65cm/s.

Two weeks ago, JAXA confirmed, based on data analysis, that the landing procedure had been successful and in a recent presentation, the Japanese space agency reaffirmed this. Prior to landing, a projectile was fired at the asteroid so that material could be collected from the asteroid upon landing.

The firing of the projectile and the actual picking up of the debris are not shown in the video. The bottom material that the spacecraft may or may not have captured will eventually return to Earth, where the probe is due to arrive in December 2020. Only then will it become clear whether we have succeeded in taking samples of the asteroid; the spacecraft doesn’t have sensors that can detect that yet.

Before Hayabusa2 begins its 310 million kilometer return to Earth in November or December, the probe will fire another projectile at the asteroid in April. The intention is that this will create an artificial crater. Then the probe will land again to collect material.

Hayabusa2 was launched in December 2014 and the probe took about three and a half years to travel to asteroid 1999 JU3 Ryugu. This is a type C asteroid. The Japanese scientists hope that the data from the samples will shed more light on the early history of our solar system and the role that carbon-rich asteroids like Ryugu may have played in the origin of life on Earth.

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