In a glorious feat, Japan’s Hayabusa2 probe has managed to land on Ryugu and capture a sample from the C-type asteroid. After the probe exited its orbit, it landed on the surface of the asteroid only momentarily, but was also able to retrieve a sample from the asteroid despite the many challenges associated with this complex endeavor.
According to BGR, to pull off capturing a sufficient quantity of dust from Ryugu, as soon as the Hayabusa2 probe touched down on the asteroid the probe had to aim a bullet squarely at its surface.
As the probe’s handlers were 180 million miles away on Earth, there was no way that any direct control could be exerted upon the spacecraft, which meant that all of the engineers involved with Japan’s space program JAXA had to sit back and wait to get word from Hayabusa2 on whether its mission was successful.
Because there were delays of approximately 20 minutes when communicating with the distant probe, engineers were hopeful that all of their hard work had paid off, and in this they were not disappointed.
JAXA has now announced that they were able to shoot a projectile straight into Ryugu, quickly and smoothly retrieving a sample of the surface dust, after which the Hayabusa2 probe went back into orbit around the asteroid.
Yuichi Tsuda, the project manager of the Hayabusa2 mission, was elated over its success, and explained to the media that he was extremely relieved at the moment.
“We made a successful touchdown, including firing a bullet. We made the ideal touchdown in the best conditions. I’m really relieved now. It felt very long until the moment the touchdown happened.”
A Japanese spacecraft completed a touchdown on the surface of an asteroid, where it fired a bullet at the rock’s surface rock. A successful mission could help advance understanding of how our planet formed in the early solar system. https://t.co/GSN6AzasNU
— The New York Times (@nytimes) February 22, 2019
As Spaceflight Now reported, Tsuda also stated, “Mankind’s hand has reached a new star today.”
The Hayabusa2 mission marks the second occasion that Japan has managed to retrieve samples from the surface of an asteroid. Japan’s first spacecraft to achieve this was its Hayabusa probe, which was sent to the asteroid Itokawa. However, on this particular occasion, the probe only extracted very tiny specimens from the asteroid after suffering from a large number of difficulties with the project.
These included a fuel leak, reaction wheel failures, and a problem with the system that was intended to be used to fire projectiles into the asteroid. Due to these issues, Hayabusa took what it could get and flew its microscopic sample back to Earth in 2010.
While Tsuda isn’t entirely certain how large of a sample has been collected from Ryugu, which was taken from the name of a dragon’s palace in a fairy tale about the adventures of Urashima Tarō, he believes that the Hayabusa2 probe almost certainly obtained a “decent amount of sample” from the asteroid.