A camera has successfully recorded the attempt of a Japanese spaceship to capture a second sample from a distant asteroid. While the actual rehearsal collection took place in early July, a video with pictures taken during the maneuver was released on Friday, July 26th.
The sample-gathering spacecraft Hayabusa2 has been in orbit around the asteroid Ryugu since July 2018 and has already delivered robots and rovers to the asteroids. In the new video you can see how the shadow of the spacecraft steadily grows as it approaches the surface of the asteroid. As the outstretched sample collector contacts, a vortex of dust and stones explodes off the surface as the spaceship quickly returns to space.
This is a 10x animation that was taken with the small monitor camera (CAM-H) during the second touchdown. CAM-H was installed by a public donation – many thanks to all! Bildzeit: 2019/7/11 10:03:54 ~ 10:11:44 JST, at altitudes from 8.5 to 150 m. (JAXA) https://t.co/ZrzegHABYU pic.twitter.com/owtaDxZx0m
– HAYABUSA2 @ JAXA (@ haya2e_jaxa) July 26, 2019
The video (which is being accelerated) about ten times) documents the second time that the spaceship has packed a sample of the asteroid. It is also the second time that an on-board camera – CAM-H, which was fully funded by public donations – took the action to take samples.
A blog entry on Hayabusa's official website2 mentions the potential danger of the second attempt at detection. The combination of unfriendly terrain, technical difficulties of the maneuver, and the fact that the spaceship operated so far from Earth left Hayabusa's mission control no room for error. The team pointed out that with this next attempt, it was not possible to achieve a similarly good result just because it successfully won a sample in February.
They decided to try anyway and found that all of these risks were significantly offset by the potential scientific wealth that was waiting for a second sample to be taken. Unlike the first attempt, the team aimed this time to remove material from the interior of the asteroid that was not as exposed to radiation as its surface.
Already in April, Hayabusa2 hit a crater in Ryugu's surface and put material from inside the asteroid into space. A few weeks later, images of the crater were sent back to Earth so that the researchers could find out where fresh material had landed from the impact and whether they could safely collect it. They decided that this was associated with the risk.
Also, "there is no progress in being vaguely scared," noted the anonymous blog authors.
Hayabusa2 is making progress on its mission since launching in December 2014. The spaceship's return journey is scheduled for November or December. It should arrive on Earth sometime in late 2020 and then hurl its precious samples as a souvenir of a very long and eventful journey through the atmosphere.