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Hayabusa 2 space probe adjusts course, enters final leg to Ryugu asteroid

Hayabusa 2 project members examine telemetric data coming from the spacecraft at the mission control center in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, on June 24, 2018. (Mainichi)
A computer screen at the JAXA mission control room in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, shows speed data sent by the Hayabusa 2 probe on June 24, 2018. (Mainichi)

SAGAMIHARA, Kanagawa -- Japan's Hayabusa 2 space probe has successfully completed a course adjustment and entered the final leg of its 3.5-year journey to the asteroid Ryugu for a planned arrival on June 27, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said on June 24.

The probe will make two more minor course corrections before it reaches a point about 20 kilometers from the asteroid. The craft was about 36 kilometers from Ryugu as of 6 p.m. on June 24, according to JAXA.

The latest course adjustment was managed from the JAXA mission control center in Sagamihara. Commands to fire chemical thrusters twice at 9:35 and 9:40 a.m. for speed reduction and course change were transmitted to the probe, which is about 300 million kilometers from Earth. Because of the distance, it took a total of about 32 minutes for the commands to reach the Hayabusa and for the spacecraft to send back the telemetric data about the completion of the maneuvers.

When project manager Yuichi Tsuda confirmed the data and judged that the planned maneuvers had been successful, the room filled with applause and smiles.

Additional course corrections will be carried out on June 26 and 27, respectively. The first one will slow the probe's relative speed to that of the asteroid to almost zero, and the last adjustment will bring the spacecraft to its destination of about 20 kilometers above Ryugu.

The Hayabusa 2 explorer is scheduled to make three landings on the asteroid to collect samples starting in November, and return to Earth around the end of 2020.

(Japanese original by Etsuko Nagayama, Opinion Group)

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