Thursday, 19 September, 2019

Japanese probe makes successful touchdown on asteroid

Mission control has been keeping a close eye on the probe 300 million kilometres awayMore Mission control has been keeping a close eye on the probe 300 million kilometres awayMore
Sandra Phillips | 11 July, 2019, 18:45

Hayabusa 2 will collect samples from beneath the surface of asteroid Ryugu, which contain rubble left over from the birth of planets.

"The touchdown is successful", spokesman Takayuki Tomobe from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) told AFP. Hayabusa2 is expected to leave the asteroid to return to Earth at the end of next year, with the samples for scientific study.

JAXA officials said earlier that the probe appeared to have landed successfully, but confirmation came only after Hayabusa2 lifted back up from the asteroid and resumed communications with the control room.

During the touchdown, the probe will collect the samples of material released from firing the projectile into the surface for bringing them to Earth.

"The landing was a huge success as [Hayabusa2] made a flawless 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.

The initial touchdown on the asteroid was postponed from October past year, as JAXA found the surface of the asteroid, which at the time was about 300 million km from Earth and 900 meters in diameter, to be rockier than it first thought and needed more time to ensure the safe landing of the probe. "It's possible such asteroids may have brought to Earth both the water and the organic material necessary for life to start", Alan Fitzsimmons, astronomer at Queen's University Belfast, told BBC News.

Project manager Yuichi Tsuda stated from the mission control room that the touchdown was a success, and that the event "marked a new chapter in history".

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Hayabusa2 is the successor to the Japanese space agency's first asteroid explorer "Hayabusa", which means falcon in Japanese.

Prior to that, two small robotic rovers also launched from Hayabusa2 successfully landed on Ryugu on September 22, JAXA confirmed.

Thursday's mission was to land inside that crater to collect scattered samples that scientists believe contain more valuable clues to the origin of the solar system. It took its first sample from the asteroid's surface in February. By analyzing them, the scientists would learn more about what forms asteroids and find out more information about the early days of our solar system. The probe had initially been working above the Ryugu asteroid before its landing.

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

The mission is believed to have collected first-ever asteroid subsurface samples, the report said.

The original incarnation collected dust samples from a smaller asteroid, which is described as looking like a potato.

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

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