Japan Lands Spacecraft on an Asteroid 131 million miles From Earth to Collect Samples

What a fascinating achievement this is.

It’s an achievement worthy of every praise.

Japan’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft has signaled back to Earth it has landed on the surface of asteroid Ryugu, a lonely space rock orbiting the sun at a distance of around 131 million miles.

Hayabusa2 entered in orbit around Ryugu in 2018 and immediately kicked off with its science experiments.

It measured the asteroid composition, its gravity, and along the way, the spacecraft is snapping some pretty stunning images and videos.

Not long ago, we reported that the spacecraft had shot an impactor at the asteroid, in order to kick up some of the asteroids underground materials and loosen geological features on its surface.

Scientists waited and finally, on July 11, 2019, the spacecraft landed on the asteroid in order to pick up some of the materials that were revealed by the explosion.

“From the data sent from Hayabusa2, it has been confirmed that the touchdown sequence, including the discharge of a projectile for sampling, was completed successfully,” the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) announced in a press release.

As it made its way to the surface of the asteroid, Hayabusa2 made sure to document the process.

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The surface features of asteroid Ryugu, as seen by the Hayabusa2 spacecraft.
The surface features of asteroid Ryugu, as seen by the Hayabusa2 spacecraft.

“The first photo was taken at 10:06:32 JST (on-board time) and you can see the gravel flying upwards. The second shot was at 10:08:53 where the darker region near the center is due to touchdown,” the Japanese space agency tweeted.

The spacecraft touched down on the surface of the asteroid at 10:06 a.m. Japan time and JAXA reveals all systems are functioning normally.

The recent landing on the asteroid marks the second time the Hayabusa2 spacecraft touched down on the asteroid, attempting to collect subsurface materials.

The material collected by the Japanese probe is a treasure-trove of cosmic history, as the material has remained shielded from the hazardous effects of space weather, like cosmic rays and charged particles from the sun.

The spacecraft aims to return the collected samples back to earth for further studies.

The material could help reveal the origins of our solar system and what the environment was like, billions of years ago before the Earth and other planets and moons formed.

Second Landing– the process

Landing on an asteroid located 131 million miles away is no easy task.

The operation began on July 9, as Hayabusa2 prepared to lower to the asteroid’s surface. On July 10, it reached a distance of around 30 meters above the asteroid’s surface, as the probe located a marker it had shot at the asteroid earlier, and then autonomously adjusted its trajectory to land on the asteroid.

Eventually, the spacecraft landed in the C01-Cb region, which is located some 20 meters from the artificial crater it had created earlier.

The spacecraft didn’t stay log on the surface. In fact, according to JAXA the landing lasted only a few seconds and saw the probe shoot another projectile into the asteroid’s surface, in order to kick up a field of floating debris that were then collected by the probe’s collection tube.

Immediately after, the spacecraft accelerated rising to a safe distance where it will remain in orbit around the asteroid.

Everything turned out fine despite the high risks of the mission.

“It was a success, a big success,” revealed Hayabusa 2 team member Takashi Kubota, as reported by New Scientist.

“We achieved success in all scheduled procedures.”