The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) announced on Aug. 23 that the space probe Hayabusa 2 plans to make a landing on the surface of the asteroid Ryugu in late October.
The candidate landing area is a roughly 100-square-meter patch above Ryugu's equator, chosen on the basis of the probe's ability to carry out operations on the surface as well as safety concerns. The surface of Ryugu is rocky, and even in the candidate landing zone, there are still boulders several meters in diameter scattered around the area. Operation of the probe on the surface of the asteroid looks to be a difficult endeavor.
According to JAXA, while the planned landing zone has comparatively fewer boulders on the surface than other areas of Ryugu, dozens of rocks measuring over 3 meters in diameter have been confirmed. An additional two locations have been selected for backup. The probe will rehearse its approach to the asteroid two times, coming within roughly 30 meters of Ryugu's surface, before the agency makes the final decision where to land.
In addition, it has also been decided that the small robot probe Minerva 2, which can survey the surface of Ryugu in more detail, will make a landing on Sept. 21, while the small-scale landing rover Mascot, developed jointly by Germany and France, will make a landing on Oct. 3. The potential landing positions for these two probes were chosen separately from those for Hayabusa 2.
If Hayabusa 2 lands on rocks that are over 50 centimeters tall, then it could end up tilted, and operations such as collecting rock samples from the surface of the asteroid could be disrupted. Project manager Yuichi Tsuda explained, "The terrain is such that there is no reassurance from a technical standpoint. We intend to overcome the difficulties through team work that includes other international space organizations."
(Japanese original by Tomohiro Ikeda, Science & Environment News Department)