Hayabusa2 Selfie Shows Touchdown on Ryugu

Hayabusa2 Selfie Shows Touchdown on Ryugu

Japan’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft took images of itself as it touched down on the asteroid Ryugu last month.  Hayabusa2 is designed to collect samples of Ryugu and return them to Earth. The video shows a blast of material was ejected as planned, although the amount that made its way into the sample canister will not be known until next year when it is back in Japan.

The video released by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) shows Hayabusa2’s shadow as it descends to the surface, then a swarm of debris as it hits and ascends away.  A projectile, often referred to as a bullet, was fired into Ryugu’s surface to liberate the material.

Hayabusa2 arrived at Ryugu in June 2018 after a 4-year journey.  It deployed three tiny landers/rovers last fall — Minerva II1-A and Minerva II1-B in September and the German-French MASCOT in October — to scout the surface for the best place to sample.  The surface was quite different than expected, so JAXA engineers did a test of the sample retrieval mechanism back on Earth using simulated Ryugu material.  That gave them confidence it would work and the successful touchdown took place on February 21 Eastern Standard Time (February 22 in Japan).

JAXA earlier released an image showing the spacecraft’s shadow above Ryugu and the area disturbed by the touchdown.

Next on the mission timeline is a plan to drop a small explosive onto the surface.  That will create a crater and expose material below the surface that can be collected in another sample acquisition attempt this spring.  That will be followed by deployment of another tiny lander, MINERVA II-2, in July.  Hayabusa2 will head back to Earth at the end of this year with the sample canister landing in Australia in December 2020.

Artist’s illustration of the Hayabusa2 spacecraft and its shadow at Ryugu. Credit: JAXA.

Japan’s first asteroid sample return spacecraft, Hayabusa, returned samples from the asteroid Itokawa in 2010, although the mission encountered a number of challenges and only about 1,500 grains were obtained.

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