Unique 3.5-year space mis­sion close to goal

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - WORLD -

TOKYO: A Ja­panese space probe ar­rived at an as­ter­oid this week, af­ter a 3.5 year jour­ney, to un­der­take a unique ex­per­i­ment – blow a crater in the rocky sur­face to col­lect sam­ples and bring them back to Earth.

The un­manned Hayabusa2 space­craft reached its base of op­er­a­tions about 20km from the as­ter­oid and 280 mil­lion kilo­me­tres from Earth on Wed­nes­day, the Ja­pan Aerospace Ex­plo­ration Agency, Jaxa, said.

Over the 18 months, the ro­botic ex­plorer will at­tempt three brief land­ings to col­lect sam­ples.

If the retrieval and the re­turn jour­ney are suc­cess­ful, the as­ter­oid ma­te­rial could pro­vide clues to the ori­gin of the so­lar sys­tem and life on Earth.

The mis­sion is chal­leng­ing. Hayabusa2 will spend about two months look­ing for suit­able land­ing places on the un­even sur­face. Be­cause of the high sur­face tem­per­a­ture, it will stay for only a few sec­onds each time it lands. Any sam­ples would be sent back in a re-en­try cap­sule that is due to ar­rive at the end of 2020.

The as­ter­oid, named Ryugu, is about 900m in di­am­e­ter. In pho­tos re­leased by Jaxa, it ap­pears more cube-shaped than round.

A num­ber of large craters can be seen, which project man­ager Yuichi Tsuda said made the se­lec­tion of land­ing points “both in­ter­est­ing and dif­fi­cult”.

The first touch­down is planned for Septem­ber or Oc­to­ber. Be­fore the fi­nal touch­down, in April or May, Hayabusa2 will send out a squat cylin­der that will det­o­nate above the as­ter­oid, shoot­ing a 2kg cop­per pro­jec­tile into it to make a crater.

Hayabusa2 will hide on the other side of the as­ter­oid to pro­tect it­self dur­ing the op­er­a­tion and wait another two to three weeks to make sure any de­bris that could dam­age the ex­plorer has cleared.

It will then at­tempt to land to col­lect un­der­ground ma­te­rial that was blown out of the crater and sur­face ma­te­rial from the ear­lier touch­downs.

The space­craft will also de­ploy three sur­face rovers which will con­duct probes, as well as a FrenchGer­man-made lan­der to study the sur­face. – AP/African News Agency/ANA

PIC­TURE EPA/AFRICAN NEWS AGENCY (ANA)

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