After two years of travel through the inner solar system, Japan’s Hayabusa spacecraft has reached its target – asteroid Itokawa. The probe â€œparkedâ€ about 20 kilometres away from the asteroid on Monday.
Launched on 9 May 2003, Hayabusa aims to be the first ever craft to bring pieces of an asteroid back to Earth.
The spacecraft will immediately start mapping the asteroid and will determine its surface composition by analysing the spectra of the light it reflects. In November, Hayabusa will descend toward the asteroid’s surface and touch down twice. Each time, a fabric cone will touch the surface, triggering the firing of a pellet into the asteroid at 300 metres per second. After each firing, the probe will take off and attempt to collect the dust ejected from by the impact. The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) will also attempt one practice run before the pair of real touchdowns.
During its initial descent, the spacecraft will also deploy a little hopper called Minerva. The coffee-can-sized device will attempt several 10-metre-high jumps on the asteroidâ€™s surface, taking temperature readings and pictures…