Ja­pan de­lays land­ing space­craft on as­ter­oid

The Sun Times (Owen Sound) - - WORLD NEWS - MARI YA­M­AGUCHI

TOKYO — Ja­pan’s space agency is de­lay­ing a space­craft touch­down on an as­ter­oid be­cause sci­en­tists need more time to find a safe land­ing site on the ex­tremely rocky sur­face.

The space­craft Hayabusa2 left Earth in 2014 and trav­elled 280 mil­lion km to the area of as­ter­oid Ryugu, which it reached in June.

The Ja­pan Aero­space Ex­plo­ration Agency plans to at­tempt three brief touch-and-go land­ings on Ryugu to col­lect sam­ples in hopes of gain­ing clues to the ori­gin of the so­lar sys­tem and life on Earth.

JAXA Hayabusa2 project man­ager Yuichi Tsuda said Fri­day that the rock­ier-than-ex­pected as­ter­oid hardly has any flat spa­ces for land­ing.

“Those rocks are our big­gest headache,” Tsuda said. “Ryugu is ex­tremely rocky and it’s al­most cruel.”

He said his team needs at least a month to re­vise the land­ing plan, and is still hope­ful.

“We will not let Hayabusa2 come back empty-handed,” Tsuda said ear­lier.

A one-month de­lay at this time of year means two more idle months be­cause the space­craft will be on the other side of the sun from the Earth in Novem­ber and De­cem­ber, mak­ing it un­able to com­mu­ni­cate.

Sci­en­tists are an­a­lyz­ing data that Hayabusa2 col­lected when it moved close to the as­ter­oid to re­lease three rovers, as well as images and other data col­lected by the rovers, to de­ter­mine the best land­ing spot.

Two Ja­panese Min­erva II-1 rovers landed suc­cess­fully on the as­ter­oid in Septem­ber, and a Ger­man-French MAS­COT rover landed last week.

All have sent back sur­face images and data.

Hayabusa2 will re­hearse near-touch­down ap­proaches to the as­ter­oid later this month and ob­tain more data. Its first ac­tual land­ing is ex­pected in late Jan­uary or later.

Be­fore its fi­nal touch­down, now ex­pected in May or June, Hayabusa2 is to send out a squat cylin­der that will det­o­nate above the as­ter­oid, shoot­ing a pro­jec­tile into it to form a crater where JAXA hopes Hayabusa2 will land to col­lect sam­ples be­fore re­turn­ing home in 2020.

Ex­perts say the as­ter­oid sam­ples may con­tain or­ganic com­pounds.

JAXA VIA THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

The sur­face of as­ter­oid Ryugu is seen in this im­age cap­tured by Rover-1B. Ja­pan’s space agency is de­lay­ing a space­craft touch­down as sci­en­tists need more time to find a safe land­ing site on the ex­tremely rocky sur­face.

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