Japan's Japan JAXA space program had a very long 24 hours. The group's Hayabusa2 asteroid detector, who reached Ryugu last year, performed his most demanding maneuver leaving his orbit around the rock and touching his surface for a moment. But this was not just what he did.
The plan was for Hayabusa2 to retrieve samples of the diamond-shaped asteroid to bring them back to Earth, but grabbing a sample is not as easy as it sounds. To efficiently collect rock dust during its short landing, the spacecraft had to shoot a bullet in Ryugu and had to do all this without direct control by its Earth operators, over 180 million miles away.
JAXA engineers patiently wait for the detector to send information about its maneuver, with signals lasting about 20 minutes to travel back and forth between the Earth and the spacecraft.
However, despite the incredible challenge created by the roughy surface of Ryugu, JAXA says that her detection made the feat, successfully shot the projectile on the surface of the asteroid and then grabbed a sample of its dust before it resurfaced again orbiting the rock.
"We have made a successful approach, including firing a ball. We made the ideal touchdown under the best conditions," Yuichi Tsuda, head of the Hayabusa mission2, told reporters. "I'm really relieved now, it's been a long time since the touchdown happened."
This feeling of relief may not last long, as Hayabusa2 still has a lot of work to do in order to be able to restore his mission. The detector will perform two more maneuvers like this by collecting dust samples and eventually leaving for Earth to deliver asteroid material. It will reach back to our planet in 2020 if everything goes as planned.