Japan Becomes First Country To Land On An Asteroid With Hayabusa2 Space Probe

Friday, 21 September 2018 - 1:59PM
Space Imagery
Solar System
Friday, 21 September 2018 - 1:59PM
Japan Becomes First Country To Land On An Asteroid With Hayabusa2 Space Probe
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Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR) CC by 3.0
The JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) Hayabusa2 probe arrived at the asteroid Ryugu this past June, but it's been waiting for the right time to launch its two cylinder-shaped rovers, which will use Ryugu's low gravity to jump 50 feet above the asteroid's surface and take photos before returning to the ground. Today, those weird little rovers were successfully launched, but now JAXA – along with the rest of the world – is waiting with baited breath: did the probes land successfully, or will this be a repeat of JAXA's last botched attempt in 2005?

If they've successfully landed on Ryugu, the rovers should begin transmitting data back to Earth within a day or two. After that, Hayabusa2 will launch a landing craft called Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout (MASCOT), a joint project by France and Germany. The real high point of the mission, however, will probably be the release of an "impactor," which will use explosives to shoot a copper rod at Ryugu and create a small crater. The idea is that the crater will expose deeper layers of the asteroid that haven't been affected by radiation or solar wind, allowing scientists to get a better picture of its composition.



One of the goals of the mission is to see if Ryugu (and other asteroids like it) might carry the chemical building blocks for life, which would lend credence to the theory that asteroid impacts "seeded" Earth with the materials needed for bacteria and more complex lifeforms to develop. In addition to JAXA's investigation of Ryugu, NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is currently closing in on the asteroid Bennu for a similar sample-collecting mission. 

If all goes well, Hayabusa2 is expected to return to Earth with mineral samples in 2020.

Image Credit: Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR) CC by 3.0
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