The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) spacecraft Hayabusa2 has once again successfully collected samples of the asteroid Ryugu!
On July 10, the washing-machine-sized spacecraft began its agonizingly slow descent to the asteroid’s surface. At 40 centimeters per second, it could have been outrun by a mosquito (though, to be fair, a mosquito wouldn't last long in the depths of space). Then, an hour after midnight UTC on July 11, it made contact with the surface.
It then fired a 5-gram bullet made of the element tantalum into the asteroid at over a thousand kilometers per hour. The impact blasted material off the surface, where it was collected into a horn on the spacecraft. This debris was then packed away, stored for a later return to Earth planned in late 2020.
Everything about this is amazing, but first let me show you the video of the event! It’s a time-lapse, starting when Hayabusa2 was about 8.5 meters above Ryugu's surface and ending some eight minutes later when it was 150 meters away. The moment it shoots the bullet is pretty obvious, Watch:
That. Is. So. Cool.
The first touchdown was done in late February 2019, and the procedure here was very ...