Background photo courtesy of NASA, ghosted image by Guy J. Sagi
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) successfully landed Hayabusa 2 on Ryugu—an asteroid only 1,000 yards in diameter and 186 million miles from Earth—and used its high-tech gun to shoot the surface, stirring up dust and debris collected by the probe. The spacecraft was launched in 2014 and is scheduled to return to Earth with samples next year.
Details are scarce, but a number of sources that cover high-tech subjects report the bullet weight was 5 grams (15.4 grains) and that it was made from the element tantalum. Velocity was 300 meters per second (984 fps).
Artillery Opening Up Soon
Hayabusa 2 is also scheduled to launch a larger projectile in April to uncover material deep in the asteroid. The process requires the 5 1/2-pound copper “bullet” in the probe’s payload to be propelled by a “shaped charge” at a speed sufficient to create a crater (theoretically 2 meters in diameter). Debris from the impact will then be collected. We were unable to obtain information on the smaller projectile’s method of propulsion.
Upon initial intercept with the asteroid, JAXA scientists learned Ryugu’s surface was vastly different than anticipated. Concerns the first shot may not be effective in getting the unexpected gravel to surrender were put to rest after the Agency conducted experiments on Earth—reported in its blog, complete with video and photos of the barrel and “projector” that houses the entire “gun.” The results determined particles in the reduced gravity would remain suspended long enough and spread far enough for successful collection. The plan to launch the larger, artillery-sized projectile from an elevation of 500 meters have apparently not been modified.
Guns in Space Nothing New
The Russian Soyuz program was the first to acknowledge taking a firearm into space, although the always-on-board passenger has allegedly never been used for anything other than Earth-bound practice. NBC News reported on it back in 2008, explaining the gun is part of the standard survival pack on every flight and has nothing to do with Marvin the Martian [Editors Note: We added that last part]. The gun has three barrels, can digest shotshells, flares and rifle cartridges, features a folding stock, machete and carries ammo on its sling.