TOKYO -- Space probe Hayabusa2's second touchdown on the asteroid Ryugu was just 60 centimeters off its targeted landing point, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) announced on July 25.
Hayabusa2, which is on a mission to collect samples from Ryugu to bring back to Earth, landed close to an artificial crater created by an impactor the probe had previously released.
Based on current observations, it appears that the surface on which the probe landed was covered in material dispersed by the crater's formation. It is also believed that the mission's aim to collect samples from under the surface of the asteroid was successful.
The probe became lighter after firing the 2 kilogram impactor and using up fuel, meaning that for its second landing, it was not expected to sink as deeply into the asteroid's surface as did on the first landing.
Because of this, it was thought that Hayabusa2 could safely land even if rocks on the asteroid's surface larger than those nearby during the first landing were present. Even so, it was still necessary to bring the probe down into a narrow circular landing zone measuring just 7 meters in diameter.
With its solar energy panels, Hayabusa2 measures about 6 meters across. Guiding the probe to a landing spot almost the same size as the probe itself, from a control room some 250 million kilometers away, required pinpoint accuracy.
Furthermore, with it appearing that the probe was carrying asteroid samples from its first touchdown onto Ryugu, JAXA sought the safest possible handling of the operation.
On its first landing, Hayabusa2 came down on the asteroid a meter away from its targeted spot. In April, when the probe fired its impactor (a 2kg copper lump referred to as a "Liner") onto the asteroid's surface, it also hit very close to its intended mark.
(Japanese original by Tomohiro Ikeda, Science & Environment News Department, and Etsuko Nagayama, Opinion Group)