Japanese Deep Space Probe Lands Successfully on Asteroid

Yuichi Tsuda points at an image showing the surface of the asteroid Ryugu

Japan's Hayabusa2 probe made a "perfect" touchdown on Thursday - on a distant asteroid, collecting samples from beneath the floor in a unique mission that might shed light on the origins of the solar system.

"The probe moved perfectly and the team's preparation work was ideal", he said.

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

Thursday's mission was to land inside the crater and collect underground samples that scientists believe contain more valuable data.

Actual landing was just few seconds.

The spacecraft first arrived at the asteroid in June 2018 to carry out experiments.

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.

The Hayabusa2 project team celebrating the spacecraft's landing on Ryugu, an asteroid 300 million kilometres away from Earth.

"We have collected part of the solar system's history", project manager Yuichi Tsuda mentioned at a happy press conference hour after the successful touchdown was confirmed.

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Hayabusa2 is the first to successfully collect underground soil samples from an asteroid and comes ahead of a similar mission planned by the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) team at another asteroid. JAXA said the particles could include water and organic materials.

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.

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.

"We are only at the stage of getting hold of (the samples) and we have to operate (the probe) carefully in order to bring them back", said Tsuda.

At about the size of a large refrigerator and equipped with solar panels to keep it powered, Hayabusa2 is the successor to JAXA's first asteroid explorer, Hayabusa - Japanese for falcon.

It took it three-and-a-half years to get to Ryugu, but the return journey should be significantly shorter because Earth and the asteroid will be closer when Hayabusa2 sets off for home, thanks to their orbit paths.

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

Hayabusa2 observes the surface of Ryugu with its camera and sensing equipment but has also dispatched two tiny MINERVA-II rover robots as well as the French-German robot MASCOT to help surface observation.

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