JAXA's Hayabusa-2 hours away from its first landing attempt to mine asteroid Ryugu

The attempt on Friday is one of three similar touchdowns planned for Hayabusa2's sampling mission.

Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa-2 began its descent to touch its asteroid target and collect fragments of it to help scientists on Earth understand the solar system's origin and how life on Earth came to exist.

While this slow descent was delayed by about five hours for a safety check, Hayabusa2 is still due to touch down on Friday morning, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said.

Once on the surface, Hayabusa2 will extend a pipe and shoot a pinball-like bullet into the asteroid. This, to blow up material from beneath the surface and collect the fragments to return to Earth.

Here's more about how the zany idea to 'shoot' Ryugu is expected to work.

Representational image of Hayabusa-2 attempting to touchdown on Ryugu. DLR

Representational image of Hayabusa-2 attempting to touchdown on Ryugu. DLR

JAXA plans to grab a sample from the asteroid using robotic arms on Hayabusa-2 and to repeat the manoeuvre two more times on different days and from different sites on the asteroid.

If all goes successfully, the craft will then collect samples that would eventually be sent back to Earth, but the landing (even if only for a few seconds) will be a challenging one. The surface of asteroid Ryugu is uneven and covered with boulders.

Hayabusa2 is aiming for a spot with a 6-meter-diameter circle of room for it to avoid getting damaged. JAXA engineers will control the spacecraft's approach until it is 500 meters above the surface of Ryugu.

After that, Hayabusa-2 is on its own — that's for its own good, too! It takes roughly 20 minutes for commands from Earth to reach the spacecraft, making it impossible for it to be controlled any way other than automated.

The asteroid, named 'Ryugu' after an undersea palace in Japanese folklore, is roughly 280 million kilometers from Earth. And while the landing won't be streamed live from all those million kilometres away, a stream from the mission control room at JAXA will be available on their YouTube channel starting 3.15 am IST on Friday.

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