The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is searching for a suitable site on the Ryugu asteroid that it can safely land its Hayabusa2 spacecraft as early as late this month.
The space agency had to abandon its first touchdown attempt that had been scheduled for late last October due to a rockier than expected surface. Last September and October, JAXA conducted a total of three landing rehearsals on potential sites.
During the rehearsals, the agency succeeded in lowering Hayabusa2 to a point 12 meters above Ryugu’s surface through the use of laser sensors that allowed to the craft to autonomously control its positioning.
“We’ve got to the point where the only thing left for us to do is make a landing, so we’re fully prepared in terms of technique,” said Yuichi Tsuda, Hayabusa2’s project manager.
Hayabusa2 will use a 1-meter-long cylindrical device to collect samples from Ryugu, which will be deployed on the asteroid when the craft touches down.
For a safe touchdown, it is necessary that there are no rocks bigger than 50-70 centimeters high around the landing site.
“At the moment, we can’t guarantee a perfect landing,” Tsuda said.
A JAXA team aims to reduce the chance of an error by improving Hayabusa2’s autonomous control program based on its movements during the rehearsals.
The team is working to find the safest location by estimating the heights of nearly 100 rocks based on the lengths of their shadows.
“I’ve had a dream in which I stand at the landing place,” Tsuda said. “After accurately understanding the conditions of the asteroid’s surface, we’ll aim to land Hayabusa2 safely and perfectly.”