A Japanese probe sent to examine an asteroid will now land several months later than planned, officials have confirmed.
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) says the high-profile Hayabusa2 is expected to touch down on Ryugu at least three months behind schedule.
Specifically, they cite ‘late January’ as the earliest possible opportunity, rather than the end of this month – which was the original time-frame.
JAXA project manager Yuichi Tsuda said they needed more time to prepare the landing as data showed the asteroid surface was more rugged than expected.
A Japanese probe sent to examine an asteroid will now land several months later than planned, officials have confirmed. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency says the high-profile Hayabusa2 is expected to touch down on Ryugu at least three months behind schedule.
WHAT IS THE RYUGU ASTEROID?
The asteroid, named Ryugu (Dragon Palace) after an undersea palace in a Japanese folktale, is about 900 meters (3,000 feet) in diameter.
In photos released by JAXA, the Japanese space agency, it appears more cube-shaped than round.
A number of large craters can be seen, which Project Manager Yuichi Tsuda said in an online post makes the selection of landing points ‘both interesting and difficult.’
‘The mission is to land without hitting rocks,’ Tsuda said, adding this was a ‘most difficult’ operation.
‘We had expected the surface would be smooth… but it seems there’s no flat area.’
Scientists are already receiving data from other machines deployed on the surface of the asteroid.
Last week, JAXA successfully landed a new 22lbs (10kg) observation robot known as MASCOT – ‘Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout – on the space rock.
Loaded with sensors, the robot can take images at multiple wavelengths, investigate minerals with a microscope, gauge surface temperatures and measure magnetic fields.
Ten days earlier, a pair of MINERVA-II micro-rovers were dropped onto the asteroid — marking the first time that moving, robotic observation devices have been successfully deployed.
These rovers are taking advantage of Ryugu’s low gravity to jump around on the surface – travelling as far as 49ft (15m) and staying above the surface for as long as 15 minutes – to survey the asteroid’s physical features with cameras and sensors.
Hayabusa2, about the size of a large fridge and equipped with solar panels, is the successor to JAXA’s first asteroid explorer, Hayabusa, which is Japanese for falcon.
Last week, JAXA successfully landed a new 22lbs (10kg) observation robot known as MASCOT – ‘Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout – on the space rock. The surface of the asteroid is more rugged than scientists initially thought
That probe returned from a smaller, potato-shaped, asteroid with dust samples in 2010, despite various setbacks, during an epic seven-year odyssey hailed as a scientific triumph.
The Hayabusa2 mission, which costs around 30 billion yen ($260 million), was launched in December 2014 and will return to Earth with its samples in 2020.
Photos of Ryugu – which means ‘Dragon Palace’ in Japanese, a castle at the bottom of the ocean in an ancient Japanese tale – show an asteroid shaped a bit like a spinning top with a rough surface.
By collecting samples from the surface, scientists hope to answer some fundamental questions about life and the universe, including whether elements from space helped give rise to life on Earth.
WHAT WILL THE HAYABUSA2 SPACE PROBE DO?
Hayabus2 was launched on December 3, 2014 and arrived above the Ryugu asteroid three years later.
It’s mission is to gather information about the origin of life, and it has fur primary missions:
1. It will will perform detailed observations of asteroids using multi band visible camera, laser altimeter, near infrared spectrometer, and a mid infrared camera
Left: A MINERVA II rover to deliver imagery and temperature measurements. Right: The mother ship observing the artificial crater
2. It will then send down a MINERVA II rover to deliver imagery and temperature measurements.
3. An impactor device will use high-explosives to generate a high-speed impact that is hoped to expose material from under the asteroid’s surface for collection by Hayabusa2
4. The probe will then return to Earth and send a Return Capsule for re-entry with the samples for analysis
To collect its samples, it will release an ‘impactor’ that will explode above the asteroid, shooting a two kilo (four pound) copper object into the surface to excavate a crater a few meters in diameter. Right: The mother ship touches down near the artificial crater and attempts to sample the underground material. Left: The probe observing the aesteroid