Hayabusa 2 is completing its exploration of the asteroid Ryugu. The Japanese space probe dropped on September 28, 2019 the last of its rovers. MINERVA 2, the little octogonal robot, will reach its target on October 8, 2019. There is some suspense in this descent because the JAXA has discovered that the computer processor of the rover has a malfunction. In the worst scenario, it will not communicate its observations. Nevertheless, this part of the mission is interesting because it makes possible to test a method of navigation specific to the bodies of very small masses.
This is one of the last major stages of the mission. Hayabusa 2 will stay near Ryugu until December before starting its return to Earth. It will then drop into the atmosphere a capsule containing the two samples it has collected. JAXA may decide to extend the spacecraft’s mission after the samples are delivered because there may still be enough xenon in the space probe to visit a new asteroid.
The photos taken by the Hayabusa-2 mission show that Ryugu is composed of two types of rock
– News of September 10, 2019 –
The Japanese space probe Hayabusa-2 will return to Earth in 2020 with the precious samples it has collected. But before, the space probe dropped an armada of small robots on the surface of the asteroid Ryugu. One of them, called MASCOT, was developed by CNES and DLR, the French and German space agencies. MASCOT is a small cube about 30 centimeters that has separated from Hayabusa-2 to land on Ryugu on October 3, 2018.
It was carrying four instruments including a camera. Its batteries allowed it to survive 17 hours on the surface of the asteroid. Thanks to a small spring mechanism, it even moved. Ten months after landing on Ryugu, the first scientific results of MASCOT begin to be published.
The images sent by MASCOT show that Ryugu’s surface is black like coal. It reflects about 4.5% of the light received. The surface of the asteroid also appears to be an aggregate of two types of rocks. One of these rocks is a little lighter than the other. This observation is very interesting because it brings Ryugu closer to a rare and ancient type of meteorite called carbonaceous chondrites. These meteors date back to the beginnings of the solar system. It shows us in a way the original material that allowed the assembly of the different bodies of the solar system.
MASCOT’s photos also confirm that the Ryugu asteroid is more a set of aggregated rubble than a solid body. Other instruments have shown that the asteroid as a whole is scarcely more dense than water ice. Its interior certainly has cavities. It is therefore a fragile body that maintains its cohesion thanks to its very low gravity.
From this information, we can try to guess what was Ryugu’s story. The fact that it is composed of two types of uniformly distributed rocks could indicate that it originated from a collision between two bodies. This impact would have pulverized these two bodies, but gravity would have eventually bring back them and mix their remains. We can also imagine that the two types of rocks observed come from the same object that would have differentiated before being destroyed and reformed.
We will certainly learn more in laboratories on Earth. The samples that will be brought back by the Hayabusa-2 mission will allow much more analysis than a robot is able to do on site. We will be able to trace the history of Ryugu and even compare it to the history of Bennu, another asteroid currently explored by an American space probe, called OSIRIS-REx. MASCOT will stay on the asteroid. The small Franco-German box will continue in silence on a multi-billion-year-old asteroid.
Hayabusa-2 probably collected samples of asteroid Ryugu
– News of July 16, 2019 –
Since last summer, the Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa-2 and its procession of landers are making a detailed exploration of the asteroid Ryugu. On April 4, the orbiter fired an impactor at the asteroid to create a new crater. On July 11, Hayabusa-2 returned to the impact site to collect a new sample. JAXA thinks the sample collection has been successful, but we will not be able to be sure of it until Hayabusa-2 returns to Earth. The Japanese space agency has broadcast some beautiful pictures of the contact. Hayabusa-2 will remain a few months more in orbit of its target before heading back to Earth in December. So far, the mission is a total success and we hope that it will continue.
Ryugu impact crater is twice as big as expected
– News of May 28, 2019 –
On April 5, 2019, the Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa 2 fired a penetrator at the asteroid Ryugu it has been studying since last summer. A simple copper plate was accelerated by an explosive charge before striking the asteroid at more than 7000 km/h (4350 mph). Two weeks ago, JAXA was able to locate the crater formed by the impact, which is 10 meters in diameter and 3 meters deep. In addition, dozens of secondary craters about one meter in diameter have also been discovered.
This impact will allow JAXA to better understand Ryugu’s characteristics and age. The Japanese space agency apparently did not expect such a big crater. It is twice as large as in the simulations. By observing the location of the impact, it can indeed be seen that large rocks have almost entirely been dug up. This is already a first information on the mechanical characteristics of the surface of the asteroid. The DART mission team attempting to deflect an asteroid by a high-speed impact will probably also be very interested in this result.
If conditions permit, JAXA will attempt to recover a sample of the asteroid directly at the impact location. This material has been relatively preserved from interplanetary medium radiation. It could tell us more about the chemical composition of these rocks. To dissect this, it will be necessary to wait for the return of these samples on Earth in December 2020. In the meantime, Hayabusa 2 will accompany Ryugu for a few more months which will perhaps allow to collect some clues about the causes of this crater bigger than expected .
Hayabusa 2 has successfully created an explosion on the asteroid Ryugu
– News of April 9, 2019 –
The Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa 2 is now well advanced in its mission. It has sent three landers on the asteroid and took a first sample on the asteroid Ryugu. On April 4, Hayabusa 2 created an explosion to send a copper penetrator at high speed to the surface of the asteroid. The goal was to create an artificial crater to study Ryugu’s interior. Everything went well. The space probe was able to shelter before the detonation and a small camera sent further could even capture a cliché of the impact.
Hayabusa 2 is now able to get closer to Ryugu to study the consequences of the explosion. The impactor has probably released a material not exposed to radiation from the interstellar medium. By observing the shape of the crater and ejectas, Hayabusa 2 should collect information about the material of which the asteroid is composed. Eventually, the mission team hopes to take a sample from the heart of the impact zone.
Hayabusa 2 still has a fourth lander to deploy. This will then be the time to start returning to Earth.
JAXA releases a video of the asteroid dust collection by Hayabusa 2
– News of March 5, 2019 –
The goal of the Japanese space probe Hayabusa 2 is to bring small pieces of the asteroid Ryugu back to Earth. The Japanese space agency broadcast a video recorded during the maneuver on February 21, 2019. The shooting of the small projectile caused a lot of chippings and rocks to take off. We hope that the compartment of the probe will collect enough dust from the asteroid.
Hayabusa 2 will start sampling collection on Ryugu
– News of February 19, 2019 –
On Friday, February 22, the Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa 2 will make its first attempt to collect sample on the asteroid Ryugu. This operation was originally scheduled in October but the mission team preferred to take a little more time. It’s not going to be easy to take a small piece of Ryugu. The Japanese space probe must come in contact with Ryugu’s surface and then fire a small metal projectile of 200 grams at nearly 300 meters per second. The impact will raise dust that can then be collected by the robotic arm of the space probe. Hayabusa 2 will do another sample collection after bombarding its target with a high speed impactor.
Hayabusa 2 is looking for a landing site on Ryugu
– News of October 30, 2018 –
The Hayabusa 2 mission seems more complicated than expected. The Japanese spacecraft has to take a sample of the asteroid Ryugu to bring it back to planet Earth. The problem is that to get close you need a smooth surface that is safe for the space probe. The asteroid Ryugu appears rather rocky, which may complicate the sample collection. Asteroid exploration missions will in any case accelerate. The US spacecraft OSIRIS-REx will approach the asteroid Benou December 3, and then will return a sample.
The MASCOT lander has begun collecting data on the Ryugu asteroid
– News of October 9, 2018 –
The MASCOT lander was deposited by the Hayabusa 2 space probe on the surface of the Ryugu asteroid. The little French-German lander MASCOT took advantage of his 17 hours of battery to have a walk on the asteroid. It collected valuable data on this black asteroid like coal. The data collected by MASCOT can be analyzed in the weeks and months to come.
Meanwhile, Hayabusa 2 still has many operations to do around Ryugu. The space probe must drop an additional lander at the beginning of 2019, and take samples. One of them will be taken from an impact crater that Hayabusa 2 will create with an indenter. We will hear about Hayabusa 2 and Ryugu for a while.
Japan is acquiring strong expertise in the exploration and collection of samples in very low-gravity environments. JAXA has decided to carry out the same type of mission on the Mars moons as on Ryugu. The Mars Moon Explorer (MMX) space mission should be launched towards Phobos and Deimos in 2024.
The two moons of Mars are still mysterious. We do not know if they are asteroids captured by the red planet’s gravity field, or if they are remnants of a gigantic collision that would have left them in orbit. It is also not known whether these two moons of Mars have the same origin. By taking a few samples from the surface of one of these two moons of Mars, we would learn a lot. This is the goal of the MMX mission.
The spacecraft must go into Mars orbit in 2025. Its orbit will allow it to observe Phobos and Deimos almost constantly for almost three years. MMX will have to scrutinize the two moons of Mars using its many instruments, then it will land on the surface of Phobos, the largest of the two moons of Mars. For its sample collection, CNES is already well involved in the mission since it will provide the infrared spectrometer of the space probe. But MASCOT’s success boosted ESA’s ambitions as the small lander completed its mission on the surface of Ryugu. CNES, DLR and JAXA have therefore decided to duplicate the operation on the surface of Phobos. The three space agencies announced on October 3 that a new European rover will be integrated into the MMX mission. It will scout on the surface of Phobos to analyze the ground of the moon of Mars. This will optimize the sampling operations of the Japanese space probe.
But this new rover will not be a simple copy of MASCOT. It should for example be equipped with solar panels, which will give it a life expectancy much longer than the simple batteries of MASCOT. The European robot could have a walk on the surface of the Martian moon for several months. It will probably also move in small leaps, which is a means of locomotion more effective than the wheels in very low gravity.
The French and German space agencies are aware that this mission will be a great opportunity to explore a new world. If everything goes as planned, Japan could have the first sample from the Martian system. The return is expected in 2029 and it is unlikely that China or the United States of America have advanced on their plans by that date. But before that, it is already necessary that the return of samples of Hayabusa 2 proceeds correctly.
Hayabusa 2 begins to explore the asteroid Ryugu with two rovers
– News of September 25, 2018 –
Hayabusa 2 is accelerating its operations. The Japanese spacecraft is in the exploration phase of the near-Earth asteroid Ryugu. After its complicated preparatory approach, the spacecraft took a second approach on 21 September. Hayabusa 2 took the opportunity to deploy two small robots on the surface of the asteroid. The two rovers MINERVA have successfully landed on the surface of Ryugu. They took advantage of their descent to take some shots, sometimes a little vague because the photos were taken in motion.
Their release was a high-flying operation. Hayabusa 2 descended from its working orbit 20 kilometers from the asteroid to approach only 55 meters from the surface. The two small robots will now move by jumping on the asteroid. They will transmit images and some measurements during their journey. Hayabusa 2 still has two other passengers bound for the Ryugu surface, a third small MINERVA rover and the Mascot lander. The Mascot lander was designed by CNES and the German space agency DLR. It carries many more instruments than small rovers and the release is scheduled for next month.
Hayabusa 2 recovers asteroid samples with explosions
– News of September 23, 2018 –
Hayabusa 2 caused two explosions. The first occurred at altitude above the asteroid Ryugu and the second at the surface of the asteroid. These two explosions were caused by the impactor of the space probe. The idea is to dig deep into the asteroid Ryugu to analyze its internal composition. We could say that it would be enough to drill the ground with a drill as do the Martian robots, but this is very difficult in microgravity. The Japanese space agency has decided to use a hollow charge.
Hayabusa 2 will start by ejecting a small module before going to shelter on the other side of the asteroid. In this module, there is a sheet of metal and a small explosive charge. When it is fired, its shock wave will deform the sheet of metal and give it the appearance of a ball. This explosion will also give a speed of 2 kilometers per second to the projectile thus formed. When the indenter penetrates Ryugu, it will leave a crater there and Hayabusa 2 will be able to take a sample from the depths of the asteroid. The asteroid Ryugu has a mass of 450 million tons. At this scale, the impactor of Hayabusa 2 will not cause a change of trajectory.
Image by Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR) [CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons