Japanese space probe attempts to 'bomb' asteroid

Olive Hawkins
April 9, 2019

Japan's space agency said an explosive dropped Friday from its Hayabusa2 spacecraft successfully blasted the surface of an asteroid for the first time to form a crater and pave the way for the collection of underground samples for possible clues to the origin of the solar system.

If all goes to plan, JAXA plans to send Hayabusa2 back to the asteroid later to collect underground samples of water and other organic substances, which could help the agency better understand the history of the solar system.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency says it's highly likely that probe Hayabusa2 has succeeded in the world's first mission of creating a crater on an asteroid to study its interior.

According to JAXA, the Hayabusa2 dropped the SCI with the explosion sending a copper ball the size of a baseball into the asteroid.

Shards of rock ejected from the impact site were caught on camera, but JAXA has said that it will only be able to confirm whether an artificial crater has been successfully created later in April after the probe has manoeuvred back to the site to make extensive observations.

As the probe maneuvered to its evacuation position it deployed a small camera, called DCAM3, which scientists hope was able to capture the moment of detonation on the asteroid's surface from a distance of about 1 km (0.6 miles).

Hayabusa2 moved to a safe zone behind the asteroid ahead of the operation so that it will not be damaged by stone fragments flying up from the asteroid surface.

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To accomplish this feat, Hayabusa-2 descended from orbit above the surface of the asteroid, where it had been hovering since approaching the asteroid on February 22, briefly touching down on it and firing a projectile made of the metal tantalum at the surface.

As for Hayabusa-2, it's expected to make its return to Earth sometime between November and December, with landing set for late-2020.

The impactor was programmed to explode 40 minutes later, propelling the copper bottom towards Ryugu, where it should gouge a crater into the surface of the asteroid that spins 300 million kilometres from Earth.

Mission leader Makoto Yoshikawa said: "So far, Hayabusa2 has done everything as planned, and we are delighted". Since June past year, Hayabusa-2 studied Asteroid Ryugu and even deployed robotic vehicles to explore the rock more in-depth.

Jaxa confirmed Hayabusa2 left safely and remained intact after the blast.

"But we still have more missions to achieve and it's too early for us to celebrate with 'banzai'".

Hayabusa Two is studying soil and rock samples using several pieces of equipment.

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