The second Japanese asteroid sample return mission is underway, and it’s spotted its target, the Apollo-group asteroid 162173 Ryugu. And what do you know? Most asteroids so far have looked like potatoes, but this one makes me think of an eight-sided die:
These images, taken with the ONC-T (Optical Navigation Camera – Telescopic) instrument at ranges from 330 to 240 km as the spacecraft approaches the asteroid, show that Ryugu is spinning like a top, completing one revolution every 7.6 hours.
Hayabusa 2 is expected to enter orbit around Ryugu next week, and will commence a lengthy period of orbital observations leading up to a series of daring landings in which it will sample material from the asteroid. It will also deploy a number of mini spacecraft, including an impactor (with an explosive charge) to excavate fresher material for sample, a German/French hopping lander named MASCOT and partially based on the design of Philae (the piggyback lander from the Rosetta mission), and three Japanese rovers. It’s an ambitious mission, and we’ll soon start to get into the interesting bit. 😉