Japanese spacecraft touches down on asteroid to get samples

Pablo Tucker
February 22, 2019

This computer graphic image provided by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) shows the Japanese unmanned spacecraft Hayabusa2 approaching on the asteroid Ryugu. "We made a successful touchdown, including firing a bullet" into the Ryugu asteroid, Yuichi Tsuda, Hayabusa2 project manager, told reporters.

Scientists were continuing to gather and analyse data from the probe, she said. The samples it brings back could shed light on what the early solar system was like and could give us more information on the possibility that asteroids seeded Earth with organic matter that led to life on our planet.

"I expect this will lead to a leap, or new discoveries, in planetary science", he said.

Hayabusa-2 completed its landing late on Thursday night on to the surface of the asteroid and has since fired a bullet at the rock's surface. Three such touchdowns are planned.

Scientists hope those samples may provide answers to some fundamental questions about life and the universe, including whether elements from space helped give rise to life on Earth.

This operation was supposed to happen back in October, but the ground team discovered from Ryugu's surface has much bigger gravel than they thought.

On its second or third landing, the spacecraft will shoot a cylindrical metal projectile called a "small carry-on impactor" 265 millimeters in diameter into the asteroid's surface to make an artificial crater and attempt to collect samples.

The 600-kg Hayabusa2, which was launched from the Tanegashima Space Center in southwestern Japan in December 2014, has experienced no problems up until now, throughout its journey totaling 3.2 billion km.

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