A rendering of Hayabusa2 at the asteroid Ryugu.


NASA

Japan’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft has already fired a bullet at the asteroid Ryugu from close range to suck up a sample of the space rock. Now the mission is going one step further and attempting to blast a new crater on to the surface of the object it’s been orbiting for months.

The Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) announced Thursday that it had begun the “small carry-on impactor” (SCI) phase of Hayabusa2’s mission. The SCI is actually a 2 kilogram (4.4 pound) lump of copper that will be fired toward Ryugu at a speed of 2 km/s (4,474 mph).

The hope is that the impact will expose some of the underlying structure of the asteroid for observation. Hayabusa2 will also descend and sample some of the materials dislodged from below the surface for comparison with the surface crumbs collected earlier in the mission.

Here’s what it looked like when JAXA tested its asteroid bomber on Earth:

You can watch the below live feed of Hayabusa2’s mission control with English translation during the SCI mission starting at 6 p.m. PT Thursday. The actual SCI explosion is set to happen about an hour and a half later, at 7:36 p.m. PT.

About three weeks after smacking Ryugu with what’s basically a copper cannon ball, Hayabusa2 will begin a search for the artificial crater from a higher vantage point and plan for a touchdown at its custom landing spot as early as May.



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