Japan spacecraft completes asteroid landing

James Marshall
July 11, 2019

Hayabusa2 then successfully touched down on Ryugu after 10 a.m. Japan time on Thursday.

Hayabusa2 fired an "impactor" at Ryugu's surface in April in preparation for this touchdown, creating a crater in order to expose layers of the rock that were previously hidden.

"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.

Japan's space agency has announced its space probe Hayabusa2 has successfully landed on the asteroid Ryugu.

If successful, it will be the second time Hayabusa-2 has landed on the desolate asteroid as part of a complex mission that has also involved sending rovers and robots. Potentially containing organic minerals and water, the material will give scientists an unprecedented look at what our solar system was like during its birth some 4.6bn years ago.

With the collection of the samples, the probe's mission is nearly complete, and it will start its journey back to Earth at the end of this year.

"We have obtained a piece of the solar system's history", said Hayabusa2's project manager Yuichi Tsuda at a press conference, adding the collection of both surface and subsurface samples would allow for their comparison.

During the touchdown, Hayabusa2 would extend its sampling tube to the ground, shoot a pinball-size bullet to crack the surface and suck up the debris that got blasted off. Landing was a challenge for Hayabusa2 because of a risk of getting hit by dust and debris that remain at the crater, Kubota said.

Hayabusa2 is the successor to JAXA's first asteroid explorer, Hayabusa - Japanese for falcon, which returned with dust samples from a smaller, potato-shaped asteroid in 2010.

"I'm really looking forward to analysing these materials", Yoshikawa said.

The Hayabusa2 mission has attracted worldwide attention, with Queen guitarist and astrophysicist Brian May sending a video to the probe's team ahead of the landing.

Its photos of Ryugu, which means "Dragon Palace" in Japanese and refers to a castle at the bottom of the ocean in an ancient Japanese tale, show the asteroid has a rough surface full of boulders.

Hayabusa2 is expected to leave the asteroid to return to Earth at the end of next year, with the samples for scientific study.

If the mission is a complete success, scientists will have these samples in front of them when Hayabusa2 returns to Earth in December 2020.

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.

But its mission has already made history, including with the creation of the crater on Ryugu's surface.

In 2005, NASA's Deep Impact project succeeded in creating an artificial crater on a comet but only for observation purposes.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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