“Horning in” on an asteroid. Sampler horn will be used to gather up space rock material.
Credit: JAXA/Screengrab/Inside Outer Space

“It is the pinnacle of the mission!”

Those are the words of Japan’s Hayabusa2 team officials, prepared to land atop asteroid Ryugu.

The touchdown operation to collect a sample from Ryugu will be between February 20th – 22nd.

Hayabusa2 is scheduled to begin the descent from February 21, and touchdown on the surface of Ryugu around 8am on February 22 (JST).

Hayabusa2 project members.
Credit: ISAS/JAXA

First touchdown

To orchestrate the first touchdown (TD1) on the space rock, the Hayabusa2 team has executed a prolonged injection test of the spacecraft’s thrusters. That test was in connection with deploying the small carry-on impactor (SCI) that will create a crater on the space rock.

The recent test checked whether attitude control and the reaction control system (RCS) subsystem functions worked as expected under a strong disturbance that is not usually experienced.

Hide behind the asteroid

Although the test was run for about half the final injection time, both the attitude control and RCS subsystem worked almost as expected, the Hayabusa2 controllers report, and they acquired valuable data for the actual SCI operation.

After separating the impactor in the SCI operation, Hayabusa2 needs to swiftly hide behind the asteroid to avoid flying debris generated by the SCI explosion.

The sampler horn on Hayabusa2 captured with the Small Monitor Camera on August 14, 2018.
Credit: JAXA

Sampler horn

In addition, there’s also been an appraisal of the vibration that the spacecraft’s sampler horn may encounter. This vibration test was to confirm that Hayabusa2 will not perform an emergency escape if it incorrectly detects the vibration of the sampler before landing.

This device is designed to shoot a small projectile as soon as the tip of a cylinder-shaped horn touches Ryugu’s surface, then materials ejected from the asteroid will be collected in a catcher.

Go to this Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)-supplied video for a perspective on the upcoming touchdown operations:

https://youtu.be/OR-vN1xyfF0?list=PLCQJJ3lTBuyCtMDbvkQcg4fb7yAHheqyN

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