A rendering of Hayabusa2 at the asteroid Ryugu.
Japan’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft has already fired a bullet at the asteroid Ryugu from close range to suck up a sample of the space rock. Now the mission has gone a step further by attempting to blast a new crater onto the surface of the object it’s been orbiting for months.
The Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) announced just before 8 p.m. PT Thursday that it fired its “small carry-on impactor” (SCI) at Ryugu. The SCI is a 2 kilogram (4.4 pound) lump of copper attached to Hayabusa2 that was shot toward Ryugu at a speed of 2 kilometers per second (4,474 miles per hour).
[SCI] April 5 at 11:56 JST. The SCI operation time has passed and we have confirmed there is no problem with the spacecraft during the evacuation operation.— [email protected] (@haya2e_jaxa) April 5, 2019
JAXA announced the successful firing of the SCI and retreat of Hayabusa2 via live webcast from mission control. English translators on the feed added that it may take up to several hours for imagery to be received from the spacecraft confirming that the SCI explosion successfully created a new crater on the asteroid.
The hope is that the impact will expose some of the underlying structure of the asteroid for observation. Hayabusa2 will also descend and sample some of the materials dislodged from below the surface for comparison with the surface crumbs collected earlier in the mission.
Here’s what it looked like when JAXA tested its asteroid bomber on Earth:
You can watch the below live feed of Hayabusa2’s mission control that is ongoing for the moment.
About three weeks after smacking Ryugu with what’s basically a copper cannon ball, Hayabusa2 will begin a search for the artificial crater from a higher vantage point and plan for a touchdown at its custom landing spot as early as May.
Originally published April 4 at 11:56 a.m. PT.Update, 8:43 p.m. PT: Adds information about the SCI firing.