Hayabusa-2: Japanese spacecraft lands for final asteroid mission

Mission control has been keeping a close eye on the probe 300 million kilometres awayMore

The space probe Hayabusa2 successfully touched down for the second time on the asteroid Ryugu, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said Thursday, adding that it believes subsurface samples have been collected for the first-ever time. JAXA plans to send the spacecraft close to the asteroid again as early as next week to examine the landing site from above.

The second landing near that crater is meant to collect what JAXA hopes are the world's first underground samples from an asteroid. Scientists hope that analysis of these samples could help them better understand how the solar system formed.

The actual landing was just a few seconds.

A photo of the crater taken by Hayabusa2's camera after the April blast showed that parts of the asteroid's surface are covered with materials that are "obviously different" from the rest of the surface, mission manager Makoto Yoshikawa told reporters before the latest touchdown.

To get at those crucial materials, an "impactor" was sacked from Hayabusa2 towards Ryugu in April, in a risky process that created a crater on the asteroid's surface and stirred up material that had not previously been exposed to the atmosphere.

Japan's Hayabusa2 successfully completed its second touchdown on the asteroid Ryugu and probably captured material from its interior that was exposed by firing a projectile into the asteroid earlier this year.

Hayabusa2, which reached its stationary position above Ryugu in June last year after traveling 3.2 billion km on an elliptical orbit around the sun for more than three years, is due to reach Earth at the end of 2020.

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"The other news, of course, is that [Hayabusa2] is about to resample and bring more materials back off the surface [of Ryugu] back to Earth for us to study", May said in the video message. These dark-colored samples may contain organic materials and water, according to JAXA.

Because of this, Japan's space agency, JAXA, chose to look into possible ways for the spacecraft to land on the asteroid in order to gather some of the rocks scattered around after the impact.

JAXA scientists said that the probe's aim was to land 2.6 metres from the target marker.

If successful, it will be the second time it has landed on the desolate asteroid as part of a complex mission that has also involved sending rovers and robots.

But JAXA scientists learned from that first mission and conducted numerous simulations using the successor probe.

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

The original incarnation collected dust samples from a smaller asteroid, which is described as looking like a potato. It will continue to take images and readings while it remains around Ryugu but it is expected to head back to Earth next year.

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