Japanese spacecraft blasts crater in remote asteroid to collect samples
Visitors in front of a scale model of the Hayabusa 2 satellite at the booth of the German Center for Aerospace (DLR) at the International Astronautical Congress IAC in Bremen, northern Germany, Oct 1, 2018. EPA-EFE FILE/FOCKE STRANGMANN
Tokyo, Apr 5 (efe-epa).- The Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa-2 on Friday completed an operation of blowing a crater in a remote asteroid with a view to collecting samples of its surface and analyzing their composition, which could provide clues to the origin of the universe.
The Japanese special mission carried out its "Small Carry-on Impactor" (SCI) operation on the asteroid Ryugu.
The process involves a sampling arm firing a bullet-like projectile into the surface, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, JAXA, announced in a press conference.
JAXA called the operation a success and said that it was the first time in the history of space missions that a crater had been created artificially on an asteroid.
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 Feb.22, briefly touching down on it and firing a projectile made of the metal tantalum at the surface.
In the coming weeks, the spacecraft will investigate the crater, gathering materials from its surface and other fragments that were scattered after Hayabusa-2 blasted the surface of the asteroid, which has a very low gravitational force.
This waiting period is necessary to ensure that there is no risk of the rocks affected by this operation colliding with the spacecraft.
It is believed that the rocks on Ryugu, located 340 million kilometers from the Earth, contain traces of carbon and water formed during the birth of our solar system about 4.6 billion years ago, which could provide clues about the origins of the solar system and life on Earth.
Hayabusa-2's landing on Feb.22 came after traveling 3.2 billion kilometers around the Sun in an elliptical orbit for over three years and after reaching the asteroid in June last year. The probe had remained suspended since then around 20 kilometers from its surface.
The probe also sent three small rovers on Ryugu last year with the aim of collecting additional samples and is scheduled to make more landings before starting its journey back to Earth, where it is due to arrive at the end of 2020.
Ryugu - named after a magical palace under the sea which figures in Japanese folklore - is around 900 meters in diameter with a roughly cubic shape and is considered among the oldest bodies of the solar system.
Japan is the only country until now to have brought back materials from a celestial body other than the Moon through the first Hayabusa mission in 2010, which carried out another mission between 2003 and 2010 to take samples from a younger asteroid, located closer to the Earth.
The project was completed with partial success after facing several technical glitches and delays since the probe managed to collect some particles from the asteroid despite the failure of its system to extract samples directly from the surface.
In a similar mission, the United States' space agency (NASA) launched in Sep. 2016 the Osiris-Rex probe to asteroid Bennu which is expected to return to Earth in 2023 with samples.