Japanese Spacecraft Takes Asteroid Sample From Blasted Crater

12 Juillet, 2019, 17:09 | Auteur: Therese Cote
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Japan's Hayabusa2 space probe made its second touchdown on a distant asteroid on Thursday, in a bid to collect mineral samples that could reveal more about the solar system's evolution.

A Japanese spacecraft landed on an asteroid, where it will collect space rock that may hold clues to how the universe evolved.

As if landing on large planets weren't hard enough, the space scientists and engineers in at JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) wanted to land a spacecraft on an asteroid.

The asteroid, named Ryugu after an undersea dragon palace in a Japanese folktale, is about 300 million kilometres from Earth.

Back in April, Hayabusa2 dropped a copper impacter creating a 10-metre diameter crater on the Ryugu surface.

As the samples will come from within the asteroid, they will have had reduced exposure to the harsh environment of space.

Research director Takashi Kubta told reporters that the touchdown operation was "more than perfect", adding that project manager Yuichi Tsuda told the team: "We have made history". It has now successfully collected the first subsurface samples from the asteroid to help in exploring the history of our solar system and the origin of life.

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Hayabusa2's first touchdown was in February, when it landed briefly on Ryugu and fired a bullet into the surface to puff up dust for collection, before blasting back to its holding position.

The complex multi-year Hayabusa2 mission has also involved sending rovers and robots down to the surface.

The second touchdown requires special preparations because any problems could mean the probe loses the precious materials already gathered during its first landing. Hayabusa was the first mission to return an asteroid sample to Earth. Because there is virtually no friction in space, the surface of the asteroid isn't smooth - it's very rough, and landing on it requires precise calculations. "Project Manager Tsuda has declared that the 2nd touchdown was a success!" That is why Hayabusa2's next trick will be to get home to Earth safely, carrying the samples it gathered in the past months.

Launched in December 2014 from the Tanegashima Space Center in southwestern Japan, Hayabusa2 reached Ryugu last June.

The samples will re-enter the atmosphere and parachute down to the ground, somewhere in the Australian outback. In the final landing phase Thursday, Hayabusa2 hovered at the height of 30 meters (100 feet) above the asteroid and quickly found its landing marker left from the earlier mission.

Hence, the latest touchdown was particularly hazardous for Hayabusa2, especially given that the spacecraft had to operate autonomously owing to the large distance from Earth.

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