Japan's Hayabusa2 spacecraft just completed a historic asteroid landing

CNET | 7/10/2019 | Jackson Ryan
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Hayabusa2 hovers above Ryugu as it drops a target marker on the surface.

Over a year ago, the Japanese space agency's Hayabusa2 spacecraft rendezvoused with Ryugu, a near-Earth asteroid shaped liked a diamond. Chasing the asteroid for the past year, Hayabusa2 has dropped hopping landers on its surface and nabbed a bucketful of rock after completing a daring touchdown. On Wednesday evening, the spacecraft performed a second touchdown maneuver -- scooping up important, new samples to bring back to Earth.

Hayabusa2 - Space - Cannon - Copper - Bullet

Hayabusa2 was equipped with a space cannon that fired a copper bullet into the surface of Ryugu in April, exposing some of the asteroid's subsurface rock. Ryugu is particularly rocky, meaning touchdown is a high-risk proposition. However, the scientific value of retrieving subsurface samples is considered high reward. As a result, Japan's space agency, JAXA, conducted intense investigations of the touchdown location to determine whether it was safe for its spacecraft to land and scoop up a sample of the freshly-exposed rock.

The mission is regarded as highly important because sampling the pristine subsurface rock could give us a greater understanding of the early solar system and how asteroids like this formed. In addition, it will inform the space agency's aspirations to travel to and sample other asteroids in the solar system.

Mercury - Way - Jupiter - Hitoshi - Kuninaka

"We would like to cover Mercury all the way to Jupiter," said Hitoshi Kuninaka, director general of Japan's Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS) prior to the mission. "For the future missions, Hayabusa2, the second touchdown, will play a very important role. It's a major pivotal point and a cornerstone."

During the mission, Hayabusa2 slowly approached Ryugu, getting closer and closer to the surface (and delivering a handful of incredible surface images). To ensure a safe touchdown, the spacecraft dropped a reflective marker onto the surface from a height of 9 feet...
(Excerpt) Read more at: CNET
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