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article imageAsteroid explorer Hayabusa2 spacecraft reaches its destination

By Karen Graham     Jun 27, 2018 in Science
The Japanese spacecraft, Hayabusa2 arrived at the asteroid Ryugu Wednesday after a nearly four-year journey to undertake the first-ever sampling of newly unearthed material from an asteroid.
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) press release on Wednesday morning confirming the Hayabusa2 had made its rendezvous with Ryugu at 9:35 a.m. (Japan Standard Time, JST).
The unmanned Hayabusa2 spacecraft reached its base of operations about 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the asteroid. Mission controllers at JAXA then activated the spacecraft's chemical propulsion thrusters to bring Hayabusa2 into a tight orbit around the asteroid that is a bit less than one kilometer (0.6 miles) wide.
"From this point, we are planning to conduct exploratory activities in the vicinity of the asteroid, including scientific observation of asteroid Ryugu and surveying the asteroid for sample collection," said JAXA in the press release.
The 1,300 pound Hayabusa2 spacecraft was launched on December 3, 2014, from the Tanegashima Space Center, The intrepid spacecraft has traveled 180 million miles (290 million kilometers) to reach its destination where for the next year it will orbit the asteroid, studying its features in depth, dropping three rovers and a lander onto the asteroid's surface.
An incredible shot of the Ryugu asteroid  taken on June 26 by the Hayabusa2 probe.
An incredible shot of the Ryugu asteroid, taken on June 26 by the Hayabusa2 probe.
JAXA, University of Tokyo and collaborators
The sampling mission comes into focus
New images of Ryugu reveal it is shaped sort of like a diamond or as Gizmodo suggests, an eight-sided die used when playing Dungeons and Dragons.
You can clearly see the asteroid bulges at its equator and several craters are clearly visible, as are numerous rocks on its surface.
The asteroid is spinning very slowly - about once every 7.5 hours, and this is good news for the mission. Hayabusa2 will be able to observe the surface to find the best location for the critical part of its mission.
When a site on the asteroid is chosen, Hayabusa2 will shoot its sampling device, the explosive loaded copper "impactor," into the site to create a small hole.
“We have an impactor which will create a small crater on the surface of Ryugu,” Makoto Yoshikawa, Hayabusa2's mission manager, told the BBC. “Maybe in spring next year, we will try to make a crater... then our spacecraft will try to reach into the crater to get the subsurface material.”
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