Posted: October 12, 2018 8:00 pm Updated: October 12, 2018 11:39 pm
TOKYO (AP) – Japan's space agency is delaying the landing of a spaceship on an asteroid, as scientists need more time to find a safe landing pad on the extremely rocky surface.
The space probe Hayabusa2 left Earth in 2014 and spent 280 million kilometers in the area of the asteroid Ryugu, which it reached in June.
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency plans to make three short touch-and-go landings on Ryugu to collect samples in hopes of gaining clues about the origin of the solar system and life on Earth.
JAXA Hayabusa2 project manager Yuichi Tsuda said on Friday that the rockier than expected asteroid has barely flat landing pads.
"These rocks are our biggest headache," Tsuda said. "Ryugu is extremely rocky and it is almost cruel."
He said his team needed at least a month to revise the landing plan and was still hopeful.
"We will not let Hayabusa come back empty-handed," Tsuda said earlier.
A one-month delay at this time of year means two more idle months as the spacecraft will be off the earth on the other side of the sun in November and December, making it unable to communicate.
The scientists analyze data gathered by Hayabusa2 as they moved near the asteroid to release three rovers, images and other data from the rover to determine the best landing site.
Two Japanese Minerva II-1 Rovers landed successfully on the asteroid in September and a German-French MASCOT Rover landed last week. All have returned surface images and data.
Hayabusa2 will be rehearsing the asteroid overtures later this month and will receive more data. The first actual landing is expected in late January or later.
Prior to its final touchdown, which is now expected in May or June, Hayabusa2 is to detonate a squat cylinder over the asteroid chasing a projectile into the crater where JAXA hopes Hayabusa2 will collect samples before coming home in 2020.
Experts say the asteroid samples may contain organic compounds.
Asteroids orbiting the sun but much smaller than planets are among the oldest objects in the solar system and could help explain how the Earth evolved, including the formation of oceans and the beginning of life.
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