The encounters of Hayabusa2 with the asteroid Ryugu have been deliciously action-packed. In February, the Japanese spacecraft picked up its first sample as it swooped in and fired a bullet into the asteroid's surface to shake the material that was then hooked up with a horn-shaped collector. Then, in April, he shot a much larger impactor in Ryugu, creating an artificial crater so he could examine the beaten material from below the surface. On Thursday, Hayabusa2 returned to the crime scene and fired a second bullet, collecting material from its newly created crater.
Astronomers were not sure they could find a safe place to land in the new crater, and spent the last few months exploring the area and analyzing the images sent by Hayabusa2. The successful compilation of this second sample means that the mission has achieved all its main objectives and can return to Earth later this year on a positive note.
A rocky trip
Hayabusa2 is just a ship that is currently examining an asteroid with the objective of recovering the pieces of its rocky companion. A NASA mission called OSIRIS-REx is investigating the asteroid Bennu in a similar way. Astronomers often find fragments of asteroids in the form of meteorites that fall to Earth, but obtaining samples directly from space gives them a clearer idea of where and how these space rocks were formed and how the last billion have gone. of years of history of the solar system. .
The mission team behind Hayabusa2 had to work hard to get the ship to finish the work that began when it was launched in 2014. Its asteroid, Ryugu, proved to be more irregular and rockier than the mission planners had foreseen. The ship must descend to the surface to collect its samples, and is not built to handle uneven or uneven terrain. The engineering team discovered that to ensure a safe landing, they had to dramatically increase the accuracy of their landing objectives.
That took more time than they had planned, and the ship has a schedule to fulfill. His timeline of the mission has him leaving Ryugu in December so he can bring his samples to Earth for study. It is also a race against time, since Ryugu's surface is about to become too hot for Hayabusa2 to handle, which means it can not prolong its permanence indefinitely.
But the engineering team persevered, and Hayabusa2 has now successfully completed all of its main mission objectives. He still has some months of work in orbit around Ryugu, taking pictures and measurements from afar, before he can return to Earth with his precious samples.
If you want to relive the whole encounter, JAXA has posted its live broadcast online.