Japan’s Hayabusa2 mission’s aim is to increase our understanding of the origins of life here on earth and how the solar system formed. The Hayabusa2 spacecraft with the MASCOT asteroid lander is visiting the asteroid Ryuga which is around 900m wide and nearly spherical in shape. Japan’s Hayabusa2 Mission, if successful, will be the first mission ever to collect samples from a C type asteroid and return them to Earth . C-type (chondrite) asteroids are the most common type accounting for 75% of known asteroids . C-type asteroids tend to be rich in organics and hydrated minerals .
Three samples are going to be gathered, all from different places on the surface of the asteroid using two different techniques. The first two samples will be gathered by firing a tantalum metal bullet with a mass of 5g at 300m/s into the asteroid and then the ejected material will be gathered . The third sample will be gathered using the same method with the metal bullet, however it will be used on an artificial impact creator. The impactor which is onboard the Hayabusa2 is a small explosive device containing 4.7kg of explosive which will create this artificial impact crater . This will allow the Hayabusa2 access to fire its third bullet into the asteroid below the initial layer of material.
Hayabusa2 will deploy MASCOT onto the surface of the asteroid to take readings from several locations through the asteroid that will be transmitted back to Earth. MASCOT will be able to gather data about geological and physical properties on the surface of Ryuga through, a camera to observe temperature fluctuations between day and night through a radiometer, a magnetometer to determine the magnetic field of Ryuga and, most importantly for asteroid mining, an infrared spectral microscope to obtain data of the mineral composition of the Ryuga’s surface .
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 much material, however that is not the aim of Hayabusa2. When asteroid mining companies go to asteroids they will have only one aim and that will be to get the maximum amount of desired material off the asteroid and transport it to Earth.
Hayabusa2 mission will also give the scientific community huge amounts of data about the structure, composition, magnetic field and much more about asteroids. This data can then be used to help plan and design a mining mission to an asteroid.
Although Ryuga is a C-type asteroid and not a M-type asteroid which is more appealing to asteroid miners because of the high metallic content of an M-type asteroid. The measurements on structure and temperatures fluctuations may be very similar to those on M-type asteroids. This will allow The Asteroid Mining Corporation (AMC) to start creating a model of the conditions their mining spacecraft will have to deal with to be successful in mining asteroids.
The methods used in the Hayabusa2 mission with the metal bullet for gathering material will probably not be used for a mining mission. However, the data and analysis on how the bullet did against the asteroid could be useful when it comes to designing the drill bit for mining on an asteroid. For example, how effective the tantalum metal was in penetrating the asteroid.
The data on the structure of the asteroid gathered from the mission will also provide guidance on possible methods the AMC could use in anchoring themselves to the asteroid when mining. This is also where using a similar method of firing something into the asteroid may be useful.
It will be in 2020 when the samples are hopefully returned to earth and even more will be known about asteroids when they do. For an animation of Japan’s Hayabusa2 mission created by the German Aerospace Centre see the YouTube reference below.