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Japan’s Hayabusa 2 spacecraft is now the first spacecraft to retrieve a subsurface sample from an asteroid. On July 11th, the spacecraft touched down for a second time on asteroid 162173 Ryugu. This time, the probe retrieved a sample from a crater it excavated with its impactor.
The subsurface sampling operation is a complex mission. Hayabusa 2 first had to find a good location for the sampling site. That’s not straight-forward on a rocky, bumpy body like Ryugu. Once it selected the location for the sampling, it then launched its Small Carry-on Impactor (SCI). The SCI is a 2.5 kg (5.5 lb) piece of copper propelled by an explosive charge.
SCI - Asteroid - Command - Charge - Launch
But the SCI wasn’t fired. Not yet. It remained above the asteroid, slowly lowering itself and waiting for the command to ignite its explosive charge and launch its copper projectile into the surface.
When Hayabusa 2 launched the SCI, it also left a camera behind at the impactor site. That camera is called the DCAM3, or Deployable Camera 3, and its job was to observe and map out the impact site. Then Hayabusa 2 made a two week journey 100 km away from Ryugu, to protect itself from debris from the impactor.
Hayabusa - Distance - SCI - Surface - Ryugu
Once Hayabusa 2 was at a safe distance, the SCI was fired into the surface of Ryugu, excavating a pit. The DCAM3 was there to observe it, while Hayabusa 2 waited safely out of sight.
Hayabusa 2 waited for the debris to settle until the danger had passed, then it returned to the impact site. On July 11th, at about 1:05 UTC, the spacecraft descended towards Ryugu and retrieved a sub-surface sample.
Spacecraft - Milestone
And that’s how the Japanese spacecraft reached another milestone.
What’s the Big Deal About a Sub-Surface Sample?
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