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Japan Spacecraft Collects Samples from Asteroid’s Surface

SNA (Tokyo) — Since the launch of the Hayabusa-2 spacecraft from the Tanegashima Launch Center into space in 2014, and after its three-and-a-half-year journey, it finally reached its destination—an asteroid called Ryugu. This mission is being conducted by the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), and its main purpose is to track the origins and study the evolution of the solar system by examining the asteroid’s surface and collecting samples, such as rocks and soil. It aims to analyze the coexistence between water and organic matter.

On June 27 of this year, Hayabusa-2 arrived at Ryugu, which is a C-type asteroid, but kept a distance of almost twenty kilometers from the one-kilometer-wide space rock. Two months after Hayabusa-2 arrived at the asteroid, JAXA announced that it would begin the landing process.  Currently, it hovers about six kilometers from Ryugu.

Ryugu is an asteroid that spins every 7.5 hours, which is about two times longer than average asteroids with a similar shape. C-type asteroids—which constitute about 75% of those recently discovered—possess a structure that largely consists of carbon. Soil samples have never before been collected from such an asteroid.

Later this month, Hayabusa-2 is scheduled to deploy two robots, Rover 1A and Rover 1B, onto Ryugu. These robots, both equipped with a camera, are able to move on the asteroid’s surface. In early October, a second deployment is planned, this time of a robotic device called the Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout, known as “Mascot,”  which will collect more data for JAXA scientists. Eventually, the third lander is expected to be deployed, the Minerva II-2.

Finally, the Hayabusa-2 will itself land on the asteroid after creating an explosion and forming a new crater. This will also loosen rock and soil materials for collection.

An onboard instrument called Lidar measures the distance between objects. It has already been utilized by JAXA scientists to measure the distance of the Hayabusa-2 from the asteroid.

JAXA estimates the date of return of the spacecraft at the end of 2020 after a year and a half of examining the asteroid.

The first Hayabusa spacecraft departed in 2003 and reached the asteroid Itokawa in 2005. It successfully collected a small amount of material for laboratory purposes.

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