Japan’s Hayabusa-2 grabs sample of asteroid Ryuga

On Friday, Japan’s Hayabusa 2 spacecraft maneuvered down to the surface of the small asteroid Ryugu and landed just long enough to extract a sample of surface material.

From Spaceflight Now:

The spacecraft dropped a pair of Japanese robots to hop across Ryugu’s surface in September, then released a European mobile scout to land on the asteroid in October. The miniature landers became the first mobile vehicles to explore the surface of an asteroid. All three robots returned imagery and science data.

The shadow of Hayabusa 2 on the Ryuga asteroid.

Mission managers hoped to grab the first sample with Hayabusa 2 in late October, but officials postponed the descent to complete additional analysis and surveys after the spacecraft found the asteroid is more rocky and rugged than expected. Managers decided to deploy a target marker at their preferred landing site for Hayabusa 2’s first sampling attempt, helping the spacecraft navigate a narrow corridor to safely reach a location free of boulders, which could have endangered the mission.

“Ryugu turned out to be more difficult than we expected, so we decided to deploy all kinds of technologies that are available,” Tsuda said.

Hayabusa 2 could try to gather two more samples from other locations on Ryugu before departing the asteroid in November or December. The spacecraft must begin its journey back to Earth by the end of the year to return home in December 2020, when Hayabusa 2 will release a sample carrier to re-enter the atmosphere and parachute to a landing in Australia.

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