When the Hayabusa2 probe took to the skies in December 2014, it was the start of a mission that would ultimately make history. Set on a path towards an asteroid circling the Sun, the craft finally approached the minor planet – given the name of Ryugu – in summer 2018. And, incredibly, after Hayabusa2 encountered Ryugu, it eventually got close enough to transmit some truly stunning images – including the first ever to have been taken from the exterior of an asteroid.
The road ahead
Eight years before Hayabusa2 snapped that pioneering photo, though, its mission was given the green light by the Japanese government. And as the craft’s name suggests, it was a successor to the original Hayabusa probe, which had embarked on a similar – if somewhat problem-strewn – journey back in 2003.
JAXA, not NASA
This time, however, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA) objective for this follow-up probe was to take materials from Ryugu that could potentially give insight into the very origin of life on Earth. It was hoped, too, that the findings gleaned from the mission could ultimately provide a better comprehension of both the Solar System’s beginnings and how it has changed and developed over the millennia.
Naturally, then, in order to carry out its duties, Hayabusa2 took along several different science payloads, including a quartet of cameras to be used for remote sensing and three separate instruments to help pick up those all-important samples. Also in tow were four traveling devices that were intended to traverse the surface of Ryugu when the craft arrived at the asteroid: Rover-1A, Rover-1B, Rover-2 and the Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout, which is otherwise known as MASCOT.
The necessary explosion
And one of Hayabusa2’s main features also served to set it apart from its predecessor. For this particular mission, the craft would boast an impactor – a nearly 12-inch-wide explosive device that was designed to be shot onto the asteroid’s surface. It was important that the impactor would blow up, too, as Hayabusa2 would subsequently be able to mine materials from beneath Ryugu’s facade.