Japan’s Hayabusa 2 spacecraft has spent greater than three years alone within the vacancy of area on its strategy to rendezvous with an asteroid. The Japanese House Company (JAXA) has now confirmed that Hayabusa 2 is in place to start its main science operations. On the agenda are quite a few mapping and distant surveys, in addition to a short touchdown to gather samples for return to Earth.

The spacecraft has spent the final three and a half years touring 177 million miles (285 million kilometers) from Earth to satisfy up with the asteroid Ryugu. This object is about half a mile throughout and a member of the carbon-rich C-type asteroid household. Scientists imagine these objects include materials that has remained undisturbed because the formation of the photo voltaic system. Thus, it’s one thing scientists would love to review when it hasn’t been super-heated whereas falling to Earth.

Hayabusa 2 gained’t enter orbit of Ryugu. After shutting down its ion engines a number of weeks in the past, the craft has used maneuvering thrusters to chart a zig-zag sample because it closes in on Ryugu. After scanning for particles within the area across the asteroid, Hayabusa 2 has taken up station 12 miles (20 kilometers) above the floor.

JAXA plans to take high-resolution pictures and gravitational readings over the approaching months. After charting the floor, Hayabusa 2 will try as many as three transient landings. The group hopes to gather no less than one gram of fabric from the floor of Ryugu. The primary try will happen in October of this yr, and one other might occur as quickly as February 2019. Hayabusa 2 additionally carries a small impactor, which ought to have the ability to produce a crater. The group might select to land a 3rd time inside that crater to gather a pattern. This mission is just like NASA’s OSIRIS-REx, which is able to attain a unique asteroid later this yr to gather a pattern and return it to Earth.

The asteroid Ryugu.

This isn’t the primary JAXA mission to seize a bit of an asteroid. The unique Hayabusa probe studied the asteroid Itokawa in 2005. Whereas that mission wasn’t a failure, it was removed from an entire success. The spacecraft skilled points with gasoline leaks and a buggy pattern assortment mechanism. The mission collected lower than one milligram of fabric from the asteroid, far lower than desired.

JAXA says Hayabusa 2 differs in that it’s a science mission at first. The unique Hayabusa was a expertise demonstration mission that got here with better dangers. This time, designers are extra assured the probe will carry out as anticipated. So, within the subsequent few years, each OSIRIS-REx and Hayabusa 2 might ship bits of historic asteroids again to Earth for examine.