We are living in a golden age of space exploration. Mission to Pluto and beyond have given us the first high-resolution photos of the most distant planetary objects in our solar system. Missions to Jupiter have given us new details on the massive planet, its fascinating moons and more. Finally, missions to asteroids and comets have let us robotically explore non-planetary bodies and maybe even bring materials back to Earth.
While none of that involves crewed trips to the Moon or Mars, the exploration that NASA, JAXA, ESA and other space agencies are carrying out is furthering our understanding of our corner of the universe.
The latest of these missions to a celestial body is Hayabusa2. The JAXA-led mission has been orbiting the asteroid 162173 Ryugu for a few months, but recently sent two landers to the surface. They will carry out various experiments, including getting samples of materials to bring back to Earth. In the meantime, we got our first pictures from the asteroid, which you can see above.
NASA’s own asteroid mission, OSIRIS REx, began “asteroid operations campaign,” as it nears its target, Bennu. OSIRIS REx will attempt to sample the asteroid by July 2020 and will return with said samples by 2023.
These missions follow the successful one conducted by ESA and partners to land a rover on a comet. Rosetta and its lander Philae successfully beamed back photos and data from the comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko (67P). Launched in 2004, Rosetta moved into relationship with the comet by 2014, landing Philae in November of that year. Philae landed badly and was only active until its on-board batteries gave out, about two days. Rosetta remained in orbit around the comet until 2016, when it crashed into the surface to give scientists one last burst of data.