A camera has successfully recorded a Japanese spacecraft’s attempt to grab a second sample from a distant asteroid. While the actual sample collection happened earlier in July, a video made of images taken during the maneuver was just released on Friday, July 26th.
The sample-collecting spacecraft, Hayabusa2, has been in orbit around the asteroid Ryugu since July 2018, and it has already delivered robots and rovers to the asteroid. In the new video, you can see the shadow of the spacecraft grow steadily as it nears the surface of the asteroid. As the outstretched sample-collecting limb makes contact, a flurry of dust and rocks explodes from the surface while the spacecraft quickly ascends back into space.
This is a 10x speed animation captured with the small monitor camera (CAM-H) during 2nd touchdown. CAM-H was installed by public donation — thank you everyone! Image time: 2019/7/11 10:03:54 ~ 10:11:44 JST, at altitudes 8.5m ~ 150m. ( JAXA) https://t.co/ZrzegHABYU pic.twitter.com/owtaDxZx0m— HAYABUSA2@JAXA (@haya2e_jaxa) July 26, 2019
The video (which is sped up by about 10 times) documents the second time that the spacecraft has grabbed a sample of the asteroid. It’s also the second time that an onboard camera — CAM-H, which was entirely funded by public donations — captured the sample-collecting action.
A blog post on Hayabusa2’s official website mentioned the potential danger of the second collection attempt. The combination of unfriendly terrain, technical difficulty of the maneuver, and the fact that the spacecraft was operating so far from Earth left Hayabusa2’s mission control with no room for error. As the team pointed out, just because they’d successfully nabbed a sample in February didn’t guarantee a similarly good outcome with this next attempt.
They decided to try anyway, figuring that all of those risks were substantially outweighed by the potential scientific riches that awaited if they could collect a second sample. Unlike the first attempt, this time, the team was aiming to nab material from the asteroid’s interior, which hasn’t been subjected to as much radiation as its surface.
Back in April, Hayabusa2 blasted a crater into Ryugu’s surface, exposing material from the inside of the asteroid to space. Pictures of the crater were sent back to Earth a few weeks later, allowing researchers to figure out where fresh material from the impact had landed and if they could safely make an effort to collect it. They decided it was with the risk.
Besides, “being vaguely anxious does not make any progress.” the anonymous blog authors noted.
Hayabusa2 has been making progress on its mission since it launched in December 2014. The spacecraft is finally scheduled to start its journey home in either November or December. It should arrive at Earth sometime in late 2020, at which point, it will send its precious samples hurtling down through the atmosphere as souvenirs from a very long and eventful trip.