Published: Thu, July 11, 2019
Science | By

Japan lands spacecraft on distant asteroid to collect samples

Japan lands spacecraft on distant asteroid to collect samples

During its first touchdown, the Hayabusa 2 fired a 5g pellet at 1050 km/hr into the surface to collect dust particles before returning back to its stationary position, 20 km above the Ryugu asteroid.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) announced the news on their social media Wednesday morning. Hayabusa 2 is expected to deliver this precious cargo to Earth by the end of 2020. Pictured is the Hayabusa2 space probe as seen in a handout by JAXA.

Due to there being a 14 minute delay to transmit information between Earth and the space probe, technicians and engineers were on tenterhooks as the probe made its final autonomous approach to the asteroid's surface.

As the samples will come from within the asteroid, they will not have been exposed to the harsh environment of space.

The asteroid, named Ryugu after an undersea dragon palace in a Japanese folk tale, is about 300 million kilometres (180 million miles) from Earth.

"We've collected a part of the solar system's history", project manager Yuichi Tsuda said at a jubilant press conference hours after the successful landing was confirmed.

When the two objects finally met, the Hayabusa2 deployed two miniature rovers to the asteroid's surface, which have been conducting research on the origins of the solar system across the asteroids surface ever since.

If the second collection is successful, Hayabusa 2 will have far surpassed its predecessor, but it still faces the hard task of returning to Earth in as intact a condition as possible. JAXA said that the Hayabusa 2 will be the first aircraft to bring back particles from below the surface of an asteroid.

The touchdown is the last major part of Hayabusa2's mission, and when the probe returns to Earth next year to drop off its samples, scientists hope to learn more about the history of the solar system and even the origin of life on Earth.

Delighted scientists toasted their success after the spacecraft landed.

The space agency said that if the mission is successful, it would be the first time that a space probe has taken samples from below the surface of an asteroid.

Ryugu samples could help scientists better understand how carbon-rich asteroids like it migrate from distant asteroid belts.

The Hayabusa 2 started its journey in 2014 and reached its stationary position near the Ryugu asteroid in June a year ago after traveling 3.2 billion kilometers on an elliptical orbit around the sun.

Back in April the space cannon the spacecraft is equipped with hit Ryugu with a copper bullet, exposing its innards.

The earlier 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.

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