Japan spacecraft drops explosive on asteroid to make crater

Pablo Tucker
April 7, 2019

The aim of the SCI phase is to analyze the asteroid's underlying structure, collect some samples, and learn about the solar system's past. According to JAXA, the Hayabusa2 dropped the SCI with the explosion sending a copper ball the size of a baseball into the asteroid.

The operation, which will take about 40 minutes, will involve the SCI separating itself from the main Hayabusa-2 spacecraft, which will then go to the other side of the asteroid to protect itself from the big blast.

JAXA is analysing further details. It was meant to carve out a 10 metre-wide hole in the asteroid after it was sacked toward Ryugu's surface at up to 2 kilometres per second (4,500 miles per hour).

As Hayabusa 2 made a swift exit to avoid a collision with the asteroid or sustain damage from the blast, it released a camera above the site that should be able to capture images of the event. In 2005, for example, NASA's Deep Impact probe barreled into Comet Tempel 1, to help scientists better understand comet composition.

The SCI was one of several deployable modules carried to Ryugu by Hayabusa 2, along with the three landers it released past year to explore the asteroid's surface.

The probe also sent three small rovers on Ryugu a year ago with the aim of collecting additional samples and is scheduled to make more landings before starting its journey back to Earth, where it is due to arrive at the end of 2020.

Kubota said the probe's use of explosives and its "acrobatic" evasive maneuvers were "unprecedented" and he hoped the mission would give scientists a rare peek inside an asteroid. When Hayabusa2 lands on Ryugu in May, it will be able to study the inside of the crater, where the ancient asteroid has not been affected by outside radiation, revealing an insight into the solar system's history. The spacecraft dropped two tiny hopping rovers onto the asteroid's boulder-strewn surface in late September, for example, then put a 22-lb.

If the mission is successful, it will be the first time a spacecraft has collected asteroid fragments that have not been exposed to solar or space rays. You can check out Jaxa's entire live feed from mission control below.

The probe is loaded with four surface landers, an array of cameras and even an explosive device that will dig out subsurface rock samples.

The Japanese space probe Hayabusa2 has launched an explosive device at the asteroid it is exploring, aiming to create an artificial crater and take a look inside.

That sample is scheduled to come down under parachute in December 2020, in a special return capsule.

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