Japanese space probe lands and shoots at asteroid again

JAXA has once again successfully landed the Hayabusa2 spacecraft on asteroid Ryugu. The probe then fired a bullet at the surface to pick up debris from the asteroid’s interior. That material should return to Earth at the end of 2020 for research.

The Japanese space agency reports based on telemetry data that the spacecraft ruimte has landed successfully on the asteroid and again has ascended. According to JAXA, it has also been confirmed that the probe has completed the maneuver to return to its ‘home position’ in space, above the asteroid. Hayabusa2 will arrive there again tomorrow.

Landing took several hours. Once 30 meters from the surface the probe began to hover, targeting a white marker previously left on the asteroid. Then the further descent was started very gradually with the help of a laser distance meter. The probe performed this last part of the landing completely autonomously. The landing at the marker took place about twenty meters from a previously artificially created crater. JAXA did not want to pick up material from the crater, because it was judged to be too risky.

After landing, the spacecraft fired a bullet of the transition metal tantalum at Ryugu to lift debris from the asteroid’s interior. Scientists hope it contains material from the very beginning of the formation of the celestial body, which may also 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 . The probe is expected to arrive here in December 2020.

It’s not the first time Hayabusa2 has paid a visit to the asteroid. That happened for the first time in February, when a projectile was also fired into Ryugu to collect samples. Before the spacecraft heads back to Earth, one task remains: drop off a small rover called Minerva-II2. That is the brother of the two Minerva II1 rovers that Hayabusa2 already unleashed on the asteroid in September 2018. These rovers move in small leaps and include cameras, thermometers and accelerometers.

Hayabusa2 was launched in December 2014 and the journey to asteroid 1999 JU3 Ryugu took about three and a half years. Ryugu is a type C asteroid that is currently about 150 million miles from Earth.

Four seconds after landing, Hayabusa2’s CAM-H camera captured this image.