Six weeks after firing a bullet at Ryugu's rugged surface to collect dislodged debris, JAXA's Hayabusa-2 probe has gone one better this time by "bombing" it with a small softball-sized copper ball. The aim of the SCI phase is to analyze the asteroid's underlying structure, collect some samples, and learn about the solar system's past.
Developed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's Institute of Space and Astronautical Science in Sagamihara, Hayabusa2 was launched in December 2014 and traveled 3.2 billion kilometers through space before reaching its home position 20 kilometers away from Ryugu, a diamond-shaped asteroid about 1 kilometer by 900 meters in size orbiting between Earth and Mars.
Hayabusa 2 will wait a bit before it heads back to the impact site, but JAXA hopes it will find a crater several meters across.
Takashi Kubota, an engineering researcher, said the probe's use of explosives and its "acrobatic" evasive manoeuvres were "unprecedented" and he hoped the mission would give scientists a rare peek inside an asteroid.
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The Small Carry-On Impactor of Japan's Hayabusa2 spacecraft is seen after separating from its mothership on April 4, 2019 (April 5 JST) just before it crashed into asteroid Ryugu. In a 2005 "deep impact" mission to a comet, the U.S. space agency Nasa observed fragments after blasting the surface but did not collect them. While it's on the move, the Hayabusa-2 will release a camera that will observe the impact approximately 0.6 miles away, and eventually send some cool photos back to Earth. The spacecraft dropped two tiny hopping rovers onto the asteroid's boulder-strewn surface in late September, for example, then put a 22-lb.
The probe also sent three small rovers on Ryugu previous year with the aim of collecting additional samples and is scheduled to make more landings before starting its journey back to Earth, where it is due to arrive at the end of 2020.
Hayabusa 2's next mission will be to return to the detonation site once the dust has settled. "But we still have more missions to achieve and it's too early for us to celebrate". For now, it has provided a picture of the detached explosive, taken with Hayabusa2's onboard camera.
Hayabusa Two is expected to return to Earth in late 2020 carrying samples for further analysis.
And in February, Hayabusa2 itself spiraled down to Ryugu, snagging a sample of rock and dirt in a brief touchdown operation.