Japan lands spacecraft on distant asteroid to collect samples

  • Japan lands spacecraft on distant asteroid to collect samples

Japan lands spacecraft on distant asteroid to collect samples

In the final landing phase on Thursday, Hayabusa2 hovered at the height of 30 metres (100ft) above the asteroid and quickly found its landing marker left from the earlier mission.

To get at those crucial materials, an "impactor" was sacked from Hayabusa2 towards Ryugu in April, in a risky process that created a crater on the asteroid's surface and stirred up material that had not previously been exposed to the atmosphere.

FILE - This Feb. 22, 2019, file image released by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) shows the shadow, center above, of the Hayabusa2 spacecraft after its successful touchdown on the asteroid Ryugu.

The asteroid, named Ryugu after an undersea dragon palace in a Japanese folktale, is about 300 million kilometres from Earth.

If successful, it will be the second time Hayabusa-2 has landed on the desolate asteroid as part of a complex mission that has also involved sending rovers and robots.

"Ryugu's surface has weathered due to the impact of solar winds, but the subsurface samples are believed to contain traces of the time when the solar system was created 4.6 billion years ago".

"We have obtained a piece of the solar system's history", said Hayabusa2's project manager Yuichi Tsuda at a press conference, adding the collection of both surface and subsurface samples would allow for their comparison.

Hayabusa2 briefly landed on Ryugu back in February.

The second touchdown required special preparations because any problems could mean the probe would lose the precious materials already gathered during its first landing.

After the probe started its descent on Wednesday and collected the samples, "the probe's mission is nearly complete, and it will start its journey back to Earth at the end of this year", Kyodo said. Thursday's mission was to land inside that crater and collect underground samples that scientists believe contain more valuable data.

"It would be safe to say that extremely attractive materials are near the crater", Tsuda said before the landing.

"I'm really looking forward to analysing these materials", Yoshikawa said.

"The world is watching".

The Hayabusa2 craft is the first to successfully collect underground soil samples from an asteroid and its achievement comes ahead of a similar mission planned by the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration team at another asteroid. "We love you, take care Hayabusa2", the musician told the team.

That probe returned with dust samples from a smaller, potato-shaped asteroid in 2010, despite various setbacks during its epic seven-year odyssey and was hailed as a scientific triumph. It is expected to return to Earth in winter 2020.

In April, a device called an impactor detached from the explorer and fired a copper plate weighing about 2 kilograms into the surface of Ryugu, successfully creating the crater, which is about 10 meters in diameter.