After a four-year journey, Japan's Hayabusa2 sample return probe has entered orbit around its destination, the asteroid Ryugu.
Japan's Hayabusa2 sample return probe has entered orbit around its destination, the asteroid Ryugu, following an almost four-year journey that began with its launch on an H-2A rocket in December 2014. The mission is operated by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, JAXA.
From an orbit 20km above the asteroid's surface, the probe descended to roughly 850m, testing the gravity field around the 900m-diameter asteroid as scientists selected candidate landing sites for sample collection.
The Japanese probe is carrying a tiny European lander, called Mobile Surface Asteroid Scout (MASCOT), developed by the French (CNES) and German (DLR) space agencies. The 10kg lander, equipped with four instruments, will be ejected towards the boulder-strewn surface on 3rd October to gather observations at two different sites.
Hayabusa2, which will also deploy three mini-rovers, will collect samples from the surface and from an impact crater formed by an explosive penetrator.
The mission is scheduled to depart the asteroid in late 2019, returning to Earth one year later.