Hayabusa2 sampler arm operations.
Credit: JAXA/Screengrab Inside Outer Space

“To go, or not to go, that is the question,” explain Japan’s Hayabusa2 officials.

The spacecraft is ready to attempt a second touchdown on asteroid Ryugu.

“Although the first touchdown was successful, going for a second touchdown is ‘the question’ because touchdown is a high-risk operation. This is especially true in the case of Ryugu, which has no large, flat areas. The spacecraft therefore needs precise control to avoid a collision in rocky locations. In short, just because we have succeeded in the past does not mean we can easily do so again.”

Change in the surface reflectivity due to the artificial crater formed with the Small Carry-on Impactor (SCI). The black regions indicate areas that have darkened after the collision. The planned touchdown point is in the vicinity of C01-C in the figure; a region that has darkened after the generation of the artificial crater. It is thought that subsurface material from the artificial crater has been deposited in this region.
Credit: JAXA, University of Tokyo, Kochi University, Rikkyo University, Nagoya University, Chiba Institute of Technology, Meiji University, University of Aizu, AIST and Kobe University

Major issues

According to Hayabusa2 controllers there are two major issues under consideration.

“The first is whether the second touchdown has significant scientific and engineering merit. If there is little extra to be gained, and as the first touchdown was already successful, there is no point in performing this twice. A second issue is the risk of the touchdown operations. If the risk is high, then the descent would be reckless.”

The second touchdown is now scheduled for July 11.

Boldly go

“We will proceed with our mission with care, but boldly go,” Hayabusa2 control adds.

It was confirmed that the risk during the second touchdown is equal or less than the risk of the first touchdown. “Since the second touchdown is of high scientific and engineering value, we decided the project should perform a second touchdown to collect a sample from asteroid Ryugu.”

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