The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has reportedly confirmed that its space explorer, Hayabusa 2, has finally reached its destination asteroid Ryugu. The space explorer, which is about the size of a fridge, was launched into space in December of 2014 from the Tanegashima spaceport.
Formally named 1993 JU3, Ryugu is an estimated 3,020-foot (920-meter) asteroid that orbits between Earth and Mars. It was discovered back in 1999 and named in 2015.
Hayabusa 2 is currently located at an altitude of about 20 kilometers from the surface of the asteroid. Now that the spacecraft had arrived at its destination, its next step will be to do an extensive observation of the asteroid’s surface to determine a particular spot for the touchdown.
“At first, we will study very carefully the surface features,” Dr. Makoto Yoshikawa, Hayabusa 2’s mission manager, said to BBC. “Then we will select where to touch down. Touchdown means we get the surface material.”
Once Hayabusa 2 sits on the asteroid, an impactor will blast a 2-meter small crater on the surface of Ryugu. The space explorer will then try to reach into the crater to collect a portion of the resulting debris, which will be brought back to Earth sometime around the end of 2020.
Hayabusa 2 will spend around a year and a half observing and surveying the space rock which is located about 290 million km (180 million miles) from Earth. During this time, the spacecraft will drop two rovers on the asteroid’s surface including Minerva, a cockroach-style rover with cameras and thermometer to survey the surface and MASCOT (Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout) to examine Ryugu’s structural, compositional and surface characteristics. The spacecraft will start its journey back to Earth in December 2019.
Scientists are hopeful that the dust samples collected from the asteroid will help them gain better insight into the origins and evolution of the Solar System.