On Feb. 22, JAXA’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft successfully landed on a kilometer-wide asteroid called Ryugu and shot its surface with a metal bullet. Now the footage of the groundbreaking maneuver has finally arrived back on Earth.
The new footage shows the mission to collect and return small rock samples to explore the nature of the Solar System’s inner planets and find clues about the origin of life on Earth — and it’s an extraordinary testament to the scientific power of automated space travel.
In a video released by Japanese space agency JAXA today on Twitter, the spacecraft can be seen approaching the asteroid. The moment it touches the asteroid’s surface, a plume of small debris surrounds the landing gear — presumably the moment a metal bullet was fired at 300 m/s (671 mph).
The surface of Ryugu was not what we expected. So our sampler team had to conduct an experiment to check we could still gather material from the asteroid surface when we attempt #haya2_TD touchdown this Friday! https://t.co/bCzvW2gwSr pic.twitter.com/XxJXETKB6N
— HAYABUSA2@JAXA (@haya2e_jaxa) February 18, 2019
“Hayabusa2 achieved a perfect somersault over Ryugu — like a ‘lunar somersault’ — and then returned to the home position in a dignified manner,” reads an official Feb. 27 statement.
JAXA’s team of engineers had to adjust the spacecraft’s course during and after its somersault, since the place it decided to land on wasn’t even.
“In order to return to the home position, it was necessary to exert a force in a direction difficult to achieve due to the orientation of the spacecraft thrusters,” the statement reads.
Hayabusa2 first rendezvoused with the asteroid in June. Since then, it has released two “hopping” rovers in September of last year for its first visit and a third rover on a second mission in October.
The spacecraft is planning to collect more samples during two future visits.
The Hayabusa2 team at JAXA wants to know how their spacecraft did.
“For the artistry score, please evaluate, everyone!” reads last month’s statement.
We give it a 10.
READ MORE: Movie shows moment of asteroid landing [BBC]
More on the Hayabusa2 mission: Japan Just Landed a Robot Spacecraft on an Asteroid