In a milestone development, the Japanese space agency has apparently set an approximate date for the first ever sample return mission to a C-type asteroid performed by humans. The Hayabusa-2 spacecraft which reached the asteroid Ryugu in June is expected to attempt a touchdown as early as next month.
The Japanese spacecraft reached Rygu after a three and a half year journey, and it is now orbiting around the diamond-shaped asteroid.
If a report published in CNN can be believed, the Hayabusa-2 spacecraft will deploy the first of two landers onto the asteroid itself on September 21, 2018. In this first phase, the robotic spacecraft will gather samples and conduct experiments in the asteroid. If everything goes well, a second lander will be launched into the asteroid on October 03, 2018.
After both these missions, the spacecraft itself will completely land on the asteroid after inflicting a small crater by blowing up explosives. By inflicting these craters, the Japanese space agency expects to collect various objects and elements from the asteroid which are not exposed to space.
Experts believe that the elements present in asteroids may provide valuable information about the formation of the solar system which happened many billions of years ago.
The Japanese space agency is currently trying to overtake NASA in the race to emerge as the first ever nation to bring down samples from a c-type asteroid. NASA is also busy with a similar mission, but their expected due date to reach the earth is 2023. On the other hand, Hayabusa-2 is due to return in 2020.
The Japanese space agency revealed that the journey to Rygu was so challenging.
"From a distance, Ryugu initially appeared round, then gradually turned into a square before becoming a beautiful shape similar to fluorite -- known as the 'firefly stone' in Japanese. Arriving at Ryugu is the same as aiming at a 6-centimetre target in Brazil from Japan," said the Japanese space agency