Japanese space agency JAXA is preparing for the next installment of theirthis week.
has already made a brief touchdown on the Great Space Rock and shot a copper projectile on it earlier this year to create an artificial crater on the surface of the asteroid. Next, the spacecraft descends again to touch Ryugu a second time to collect a portion of the material exposed beneath the surface by the crater-producing explosion.
Think of it as extremely complicated, very small asteroid degradation.
Because asteroids like Ryugu are a kind of time capsule from the Solar System's birth, scientists hope the samples will provide new insights into the history of our corner of the cosmos. "This will be the world's first collection of samples from different locations and also the first sample from below the surface" of an asteroid, according to a blog post by the mission team.
Hayabusa2 is equipped with a system that fires a small bullet at close range on the asteroid surface and stirs up dust and debris, which are then collected through a horn-shaped sample collection chamber.
JAXA has expressed some uncertainty as to whether the risks associated with attempting a second touchdown on Ryugu's rough, rock-strewn surface are outweighed by the scientific value of obtaining this historical sample. There is also the problem that dust is whirled up when the first touchdown sticks to a navigation camera and lets in less light.
However, after further analysis, the team has determined that the risks associated with a second touch are the same as or lower than the first one. It is scheduled for Thursday, Japan time.
Hayabusa2's contact with Ryugu is expected to take place at 19.00. PT Wednesday. JAXA transmits live streams from his mission control from approximately 90 minutes before 17:30. PT, and you can come back over the embedding below to see.
NASA is in the midst of its own mission to mark asteroids, Osiris-Rex, which is currently preparing.