Hayabusa 2’s landers will study the surface of Ryugu and send photos and samples back to Earth. Hayabusa 2 making contact with the asteroid. (Photo via JAXA)


News like this is why we're here.


Back in 2014, Japan’s space agency, JAXA, launched a robotic spacecraft, dubbed Hayabusa 2, to land on the asteroid Ryugu, a “Type C” thought to have hefty amounts of water and organic materials that could be used to learn more about its solar systems. The spacecraft arrived in the vicinity of Ryugu in June and has been hovering over it picking out the best landing spot. Now, it’s finally made contact. Two of the host spacecraft’s landers, ROVER-1A and 1B, have reached the surface and have been taking pictures and keeping track of the asteroid’s temperature. It’s an amazing feat, but the mission isn’t over yet.


Hayabusa 2 is preparing to launch more rovers, called the Minerva-II, which are equipped with cameras, temperature sensors, an accelerometer, gyroscope, and other tools.  The rovers will not only hop across the surface, they’ll be able to float across as well due to the asteroid’s fairly weak gravity.


Just one hop of the rover could send it into the atmosphere for about a quarter of an hour as it drifts about 15 meters (50 feet) horizontally. All the photos and data it collects will be sent to Hayabusa 2 and forwarded to mission controllers on Earth. The lander is similar to one the original Hayabusa carried that never made it to the surface of Itokawa due to an error. Hopefully, this one doesn’t meet the same fate.


The spacecraft will also launch another lander called MASCOT (Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout), that will tumble instead of fly across the surface and will use its camera, infrared spectrometer, magnetometer, and a radiometer to study the smaller structural details of the loose surface material of the asteroid.


Meanwhile, the main Hayabusa 2 vessel will get near the surface in October and will shoot a two-kilogram copper plate mounted in front of an explosive, or a bullet, into the asteroid to capture particle samples and send them back to Earth. But it’ll be a while before we see those samples. It’ll collect more samples than the first Hayabusa mission and will collect lander data that wasn’t available after the first Hayabusa’s Minera robot failed.  Hayabusa 2 won’t leave until December 2019 and isn’t expected to return until December 2020. Hopefully, the wait will be worth it.


The Hayabusa mission is fascinating and is giving us some great results. Recently, it took the most high-resolution photo of Ryugu we’ve ever seen. Previously, it only sent images of the asteroid from afar. The latest photo shows the surface of the space rock in detail allowing you to see every bumpy texture and lumpy rock. If you want to follow the Hayabusa and see the latest images, visit its website.


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