Jason DavisApr 04, 2019

Hayabusa2 Safe and Sound after Blasting New Crater on Ryugu

Hayabusa2 is safe and sound after successfully using its explosive-packed SCI experiment to create an artificial crater on Ryugu. JAXA released images from DCAM3, the small camera Hayabusa2 left behind to monitor the explosion and crater formation, that show a cloud of debris spraying into space. 

Hayabusa2 SCI impact
Hayabusa2 SCI impact Hayabusa2's DCAM3 imager captured this picture of the SCI impact on 5 April 2019. The impact debris can be seen against the backdrop of space near the top-right limb of the asteroid. JAXA
Hayabusa2 SCI impact (crop)
Hayabusa2 SCI impact (crop) Hayabusa2's DCAM3 imager captured this picture of the SCI impact on 5 April 2019. Debris from the newly formed artificial crater can be seen spreading into space. JAXA

The spacecraft successfully retreated behind Ryugu during the explosion, and is now making a two-week journey that will carry it more than 100 kilometers away from Ryugu while any debris from the crater formation settles or floats into interplanetary space. 

Hayabusa2

Japan's Hayabusa2 mission collected a sample from asteroid Ryugu and will return it to Earth in December 2020.

News brief

Hayabusa2 left its 20-kilometer home position at 04:00 UTC on 4 April, descending towards Ryugu at 40 centimeters per second. At about 5 kilometers from the surface, it slowed to just 10 centimeters per second, and JAXA flight controllers granted it final clearance to proceed. Its target region for SCI came into view at about 19:35 UTC:

JAXA continued to receive real time images from the spacecraft up until Hayabusa2 armed its SCI package and transitioned into fully autonomous mode. The final image, received 5 April at 01:21 UTC, was not completely downlinked from the spacecraft: 

Hayabusa2 final Ryugu image before SCI operation
Hayabusa2 final Ryugu image before SCI operation This final image before Hayabusa2's SCI operation, received 5 April at 01:21 UTC, was only partially downlinked from the spacecraft. JAXA

At 01:56 UTC, Hayabusa2 released SCI, and JAXA officials said it should have been descending towards Ryugu at about 5 centimeters per second. SCI had a 40-minute timer, which means it should have dropped from 500 to 380 meters before detonation, meaning it was slightly higher than I had predicted in my What to Expect article!

Bad weather at JAXA's Usuda Deep Space Center forced Hayabusa2's signal over to NASA's Deep Space Network, apparently causing a slight delay in some of the telemetry received in the control room. Because of this, confirmation of SCI deployment, horizontal retreat, DCAM3 deployment, and vertical retreat all lagged slightly behind expected times, increasing the tension.

But confirmation eventually did come! After a short wait, JAXA confirmed everything went according to plan, and Hayabusa2 was receiving a signal from DCAM3 as it ducked behind Ryugu. Earlier in the broadcast, JAXA showed off a replica of DCAM3. It's very tiny! 

Hayabusa2 was safe and sound, but what happened with SCI itself? The only way to confirm whether the explosives fired and created the artificial crater would be images from DCAM3, and a later search for the crater itself. DCAM3 transmitted a low-resolution analog camera signal to Hayabusa2 in real-time, while storing higher-resolution digital images for later. The camera had a 3-hour battery, giving it enough juice to send everything it captured back to Hayabusa2 before falling silent.

Later in the afternoon Japan time, JAXA showed off the first grainy photos from DCAM3, confirming that SCI worked!

And in another tweet, JAXA said DCAM3 lasted 4 hours instead of 3!

The initial images JAXA released look to me like they were taken with DCAM3's analog cameras, so it's possible higher-resolution digital images could still be on the way (I haven't confirmed this). After Hayabusa2 returns to its home position in 2 weeks, it will descend to Ryugu for a closer look at the crater it created. 

Here's one final picture: an image of the explosive-filled SCI package falling to Ryugu shortly after deployment. Hayabusa2 captured this using its optical navigation camera.

SCI descends from Hayabusa2
SCI descends from Hayabusa2 The Hayabusa2 SCI experiment shortly after deployment on 5 April 2019, as seen by the spacecraft's wide-angle optical navigation camera. JAXA

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