Two weeks ago, the Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa-2 broke from peacefully orbiting an asteroid 200 million miles away to perform the mission it was made for: The spacecraft briefly stopped, descended to the asteroid’s surface, and fired a bullet at the ground. That bullet kicked up a bunch of dust and small rocks, and Hayabusa collected some of that material. Now, the spacecraft is going to start to make its way back to Earth so scientists can study what it brings back.
That collection moment was captured by cameras on Hayabusa, and now the Japanese space agency JAXA has released a video of that event to the public. Watch it for yourself :
While the video itself is only two minutes long, the entire process took about five minutes and was entirely controlled by the onboard computer. The asteroid Hayabusa is orbiting, Ryugu, is too far away for a delicate process like this to be controlled from the Earth, so the spacecraft had to handle landing, firing, and sample collection all by itself.
Now that this first sample collection is out of the way, Hayabusa is . Sometime over the next few months, Hayabusa will repeat the touchdown procedure again, except next time it will trigger a mini explosion on the surface first. That way, Hayabusa will be able to collect samples from beneath the surface.
After this second sample collection, Hayabusa will leave the asteroid toward the end of the year, and arrive back on Earth by late 2020. Then, scientists will get to study the samples brought back and learn more about these distant, mysterious asteroids.