Hayabusa-2: Japanese spacecraft lands for final asteroid mission

Pablo Tucker
July 11, 2019

Japan's Hayabusa2 probe made a "perfect" touchdown Thursday on a distant asteroid, collecting samples from beneath the surface in an unprecedented mission that could shed light on the origins of the solar system.

"It was a success, a big success", said Takashi Kubota, a Hayabusa2 project member.

"The control room received Doppler data showing that the probe appears to have touched down successfully", Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (Jaxa) spokesman Takayuki Tomobe told Agence France-Presse.

By early afternoon, JAXA said the probe had descended around five kilometres and was on track to touchdown Thursday on the Ryugu asteroid, some 300 million kilometres (185 million miles) from Earth.

Hayabusa2 is the successor to JAXA's first asteroid explorer, Hayabusa - Japanese for falcon, which returned with dust samples from a smaller, potato-shaped asteroid in 2010.

According to JAXA, the underground materials have not been affected by space radiation and other factors, which could provide additional information to earlier samples taken from the surface.

"This is the second touchdown, but doing a touchdown is a challenge whether it's the first or the second", Yuichi Tsuda, Hayabusa2 project manager, said during a press conference.

"Everything went perfectly, even better than flawless, as if Hayabusa were reading our minds", he said.

Hayabusa2 fired an "impactor" at Ryugu's surface in April in preparation for this touchdown, creating a crater in order to expose layers of the rock that were previously hidden.

Asteroids are rocky remnants left over from the formation of the solar system.

The spacecraft is scheduled to leave its orbit around Ryugu in December and return to Earth in 2020.

The spacecraft had started its gradual descent from its home location on Wednesday. They were confident that a second landing could be pulled off. It touched down in February to collect surface samples and found hydrated minerals that will help scientists determine whether asteroids brought water to Earth as hypothesized. It extended its sampling tube to the ground, shot a pinball-size bullet to break open the surface, and sucked up the debris that was blasted off.

The Japanese scientists have just landed an uncrewed spacecraft on the asteroid Ryugu for the second time.

Hayabusa2's photos of Ryugu, which means "Dragon Palace" in Japanese and refers to a castle at the bottom of the ocean in an ancient Japanese tale, show the asteroid has a rough surface full of boulders. "I'm so excited about finding out about all these unknowns".

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