Japanese probe makes successful touchdown on asteroid

Federico Mansilla
Julio 12, 2019

The Japanese space probe Hayabusa2 landed successfully on Thursday morning (Japanese time) in a distant asteroid briefly, in the framework of a delicate mission that began in 2014, announced the Agency Japanese Space Exploration (Jaxa).

Hayabusa2 is the first spacecraft to successfully collect underground samples from an asteroid.

"The landing was a huge success as [Hayabusa2] made a ideal move nearly in line with our expectations", Takashi Kubota, a professor at JAXA's Institute of Space and Astronautical Science told Japan's Kyodo news agency.

Hayabusa2 had created itself a landing crater in April by dropping a copper impactor.

Confirmation of the landing came only after Hayabusa2 lifted back up from the asteroid and resumed communications with the control room.

JAXA hopes that an analysis of the samples could shed light at the conditions and chemistry within the early days of our Solar System, a few 4.Five billion years ago.

The touchdown was meant to collect pristine materials from beneath the surface of the asteroid, which could provide insights into what the solar system was like at its birth some 4.6 billion years ago. "We took a historic step", said Yuichi Tsuda, the Hayabusa2 project manager.

Hayabusa2's first touchdown was in February, when it landed quickly on Ryugu and shot a slug into the surface to puff up residue for gathering, before impacting back to its holding position.

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It took it three-and-a-half years to get to Ryugu, but the return journey should be significantly shorter because Earth and the asteroid will be closer when Hayabusa2 sets off for home, thanks to their orbit paths. "Project Manager Tsuda has declared that the 2nd touchdown was a success!" the agency tweeted.

In September past year, a Japanese machine landed on an asteroid called Ryugu, thousands of miles away from Earth.

That wasn't for fun, of course, but to bring up materials that may have been buried beneath the surface of asteroid that may have been buried for millennia. Hayabusa2, for its second sample, would then capture the debris as it floated up.

The probe launched in December 2014 and arrived at the dice-shaped space rock on June 27, 2018.

The asteroid is about 250 million kilometers away from Earth and the successful mission is said to be of considerable scientific and strategic significance.

The samples will re-enter the atmosphere and parachute down to the ground, somewhere in the Australian outback.

The Hayabusa2 mission has attracted worldwide attention, with Queen guitarist and astrophysicist Brian May sending a video to the probes team ahead of the landing.

The six-year mission has a price tag of around 30 billion yen ($278 million).

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