How to collect rock samples in space

Rock and Roving – Space News

Japan’s space agency ( JAXA ) has recently successfully launched and landed 2 robotic explorers on the surface of a 1km asteroid called Ryugu.

When the ship Hayabusa 2 arrived at its destination in June after a three and a half journey, the task was to get the robotic experiment ready for the descent to the enormous rock below on the 21st September. The robots were stored in a 3.3 kg package known as Minerva ll, once released the drum was jettisoned into space, where the rovers would be ejected from the container and would fall independently onto the asteroid’s surface.

After landing and in good condition, the 1kg rovers that are fitted with wide angle and stereo cameras would begin their exploration of the rocky terrain, and start to transmit images of the surface back to Earth via the mother-ship.

Spine like projectors from the edge of the robot`s body would test and search, examining the variations in temperatures and pressure.

Asteroids are essentially leftover building materials from the formation of the solar system from 4.6 billion years ago. Up until recently there were talks of the possibility of mining such rocks for minerals and suchlike materials.

Ryugu is a particularly primitive variety of asteroid and by studying it could divulge information of the origin and evolution of our own planet.

Whilst the European Space agency have managed to land similar probes onto an icy comet, getting a roving robot to land on a rotating asteroid that rotates fully every seven and a half hours is astounding.

Because of the motor powered internal rotors that propel the robots across the rough surface, we are able to witness images that are free from distortion enabling us to see the terrain more clearly.

No Longer Science Fiction

Apart from the science fiction element, the engineering capability is astonishing.

Considering that the Japanese have managed to land a moving piece of equipment on a distant moving object far outside of the Earth’s atmosphere is not only commendable but bordering on pure genius.

When you consider that most companies struggle to solve engineering problems in a tranquil, peaceful environment here on Earth, what the Japanese have successfully managed to achieve is remarkable.

We, as engineers at Bearingtech especially appreciate the staggering complexity of this incredible achievement. I feel honoured to be part of an industry that not only solves problems but pushes the boundaries for future generations with experiments like these taking place on the Earth, in the oceans and outside of our planet.

Reaching the Surface

In October the mother- ship deployed a lander called Mascot, which has been developed by the German Aerospace Centre ( DLR) alongside the French Space Agency (CNES) to start to collect samples from the surface, ready for transportation back to Earth.

Further onto the mission, Japan’s space agency will detonate an explosive charge that will create a crater exposing fresh rock samples that have not been exposed to the environment of space for millions of years.

After all the samples are collected and the experiments are concluded the spacecraft will leave Ryugu in December 2019 and begin its long journey back to Earth hopefully arriving back in 2020.

If someone had suggested an idea like this many years ago they would have been deemed mad, probably laughed at. No one is laughing now.

Ryugu’s orbit
Illustration by Tomruen [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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