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Japan’s Hayabusa 2 spacecraft is about to fire bullets into an asteroid

February 19, 2019

Some space mining is set to take place, courtesy of Japan’s Hayabusa 2 spacecraft.

The news: Touchdown on the 3,000-foot-wide Ryugu asteroid is planned for February 22 at 8 a.m. local time in Japan. Then comes the bullets: Hayabusa 2 will fire into the asteroid to create dust and particles that the device can gather up with its sampling arm. Two shots will be fired initially; a larger projectile will be shot later this year to stir up additional material.

A rocky start: The craft’s landing on Ryugu was supposed to happen last October, but it was discovered the surface of the asteroid was covered in larger gravel than the team had expected. To make sure the collection system would still work, the researchers performed some experiments back here on Earth—they fired a bullet into gravel using spare launchers that were made during the manufacturing of the space-bound one (see the image above).

Why it matters: The spacecraft’s precursor, the Hayabusa, is the only spacecraft to date to have collected material from an asteroid and returned it to Earth. This newer craft will provide more detailed measurements, building on the knowledge established by the original. The Hayabusa 2 will return to Earth in late 2020 with the samples from Ryugu.

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