Japan’s Hayabusa2 mission aims to enhance our understanding of the origins of life here on Earth and how the Solar System formed. The spacecraft with its MASCOT asteroid lander is visiting the asteroid Ryugu, which is around 900 m wide and nearly spherical in shape. If successful, Hayabusa2 will be the first mission ever to recover samples from a carbonaceous (C-type) asteroid to Earth . C-types are the most common, accounting for 75% of known asteroids . They tend to be rich in organics and hydrated minerals .
Three samples are going to be gathered from different places on the asteroid’s surface using two different techniques. The first two samples will be gathered by firing a tantalum metal bullet with a mass of 5 g at 300 m/s at the surface and catching the ejecta . For the third sample, 4.7 kg of explosive will first be used to create an artificial impact crater, after which the metal bullet will scatter subsurface material for collection .
Hayabusa2 will deploy MASCOT onto Ryugu’s surface to gather geological and physical data from multiple locations, using a camera to observe temperature fluctuations between day and night, a magnetometer to determine the magnetic field and most importantly for asteroid mining, an infrared spectral microscope to gauge mineral composition .
This mission is very important for asteroid mining in many ways. The first being that this proves that the concept of going to an asteroid, mining and then transporting the gathered material back to Earth is possible. The mission is not gathering a huge amount of material, though that is not the aim of Hayabusa2. When asteroid mining companies go to asteroids they will aim to recover the maximum mass of the desired material from the asteroid.
Hayabusa2 will, however, give the scientific community huge amounts of data about the structure, composition and magnetic field of asteroids. This can then be used to help plan and design a mining mission.
Although Ryugu is not metallic (M-type) as most commonly sought by asteroid miners, its surface conditions, including temperature fluctuations, may be very similar to those of M-types. Equipped with this knowledge, AMC can start creating a model of the conditions our mining spacecraft will encounter, and investigating anchorage methods. The metal bullet method will unlikely be used in a mining mission, but feedback on how well the tantalum penetrated the surface can nonetheless inform materials selection for our drill bits.
For an animation of Japan’s Hayabusa2 mission created by the German Aerospace Centre, see the YouTube reference below.