Japan Just Landed a Robot Spacecraft on an Asteroid
And the probe has already completed the first big step of its primary mission: collect tiny rock samples to send home.
— NASA's OSIRIS-REx (@OSIRISREx) February 21, 2019
Upon landing, Hayabusa2 fired a metal bullet into the rock and scooped up some samples using its on-board “sampling horn.”
[TD1-L08E1] This is the navigation image received on 2/22 at around 5:30 JST. You can begin to see the shadow of the spacecraft. pic.twitter.com/P480UlwPqs
— HAYABUSA2@JAXA (@haya2e_jaxa) February 21, 2019
There was a delay of several hours while the Earth-bound team waited for the spacecraft to resume communications after firing the bullet — the connection broke off when the spacecraft made contact.
The surface of Ryugu was not what we expected. So our sampler team had to conduct an experiment to check we could still gather material from the asteroid surface when we attempt #haya2_TD touchdown this Friday! https://t.co/bCzvW2gwSr pic.twitter.com/XxJXETKB6N
— HAYABUSA2@JAXA (@haya2e_jaxa) February 18, 2019
It's not the first time the spacecraft has landed on Ryugu. It released two “hopping” rovers in September of last year for its first visit and a third rover on a second mission in October.
Hayabusa2 will swoop in two more times to collect additional samples later this year. The second approach will hopefully roll out the same way today's mission did. On its third sample collection mission, the spacecraft will fire a copper projectile into Ryugu to collect samples from the subsurface.
The collected samples will then return to Earth in a special return capsule at the end of next year.