Published: Thu, July 11, 2019
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

Japan says space probe landed on asteroid to get soil sample

Japan says space probe landed on asteroid to get soil sample

The Hayabusa2 spacecraft had created a landing crater on the rocky asteroid in April by dropping a copper impactor.

The successful touch down is the second for the space probe, and JAXA said it began its descent to Ryugu on Wednesday morning from an altitude of 20,000 meters.

Plans call for Hayabusa 2 to leave Ryugu by the end of this year and return to Earth toward the end of 2020.

After it descended to about 300 meters above Ryugu, the probe was no longer under the control of JAXA scientists.

The second landing near that crater is meant to collect what JAXA hopes are the world's first underground samples from an asteroid.

"The landing was a huge success as (Hayabusa2) made a ideal move nearly in line with our expectations", said Takashi Kubota, a professor at JAXA's Institute of Space and Astronautical Science in Sagamihara, near Tokyo.

The initial touchdown on the asteroid was postponed from October previous 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. JAXA said the particles could include water and organic materials.

Project manager Yuichi Tsuda has described the mission as "a space science exploration that is unprecedented for humankind".

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Hayabusa 2 first arrived at the asteroid in June 2018. JAXA said that the Hayabusa 2 will be the first aircraft to bring back particles from below the surface of an asteroid.

The touchdown marked the second time the spacecraft has captured rocks and dust from the surface of Ryugu, a potentially hazardous asteroid in the Apollo group.

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

JAXA scientist Seiichiro Watanabe said Thursday's success is significant in learning about the asteroid because samples taken from two sites and at different depths can be compared. Scientists hope that analysis of these samples could help them better understand how the solar system formed.

The Hayabusa2 mission was launched in December 2014, and has a price tag of around 30 billion yen (S$376 million).

Japan's Hayabusa2 probe touched down on a distant asteroid on July 11, the country's space agency said, on a mission to collect samples that could shed light on the history of the solar system. It will continue to take images and readings while it remains around Ryugu but it is expected to head back to Earth next year.

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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