Japan's Hayabusa2 probe successfully landed on an asteroid, again

James Marshall
July 12, 2019

Japanese scientists have just landed an uncrewed spacecraft on the asteroid Ryugu for the second time.

A Japanese spacecraft has touched down on a faraway asteroid, where it will collect space rock that may hold clues to how the Solar System evolved.

"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 Hayabusa2 adventure, at a cost of around 30 billion yen (270 million dollars), began on December 3, 2014, when the probe began a journey of 3,200 million kilometers to reach Ryugu, at a distance average of 340 million kilometers of Earth, since it is impossible to go in a straight line.

Their work will also focus on whether the April impact made the material darker, or whether the crater's colour is typical of Ryugu's composition and the surface has been lightened by solar radiation.

As the samples will come from within the asteroid, it will not be exposed to the harsh environment of space.

Scientists hope samples from Ryugu will shed light on the birth of the solar system and its evolution, including whether elements from space helped give rise to life on Earth.

The touchdown was meant to collect pristine materials from beneath the surface of the asteroid that could provide insights into what the solar system was like at its birth, some 4.6 billion years ago.

"We've collected a part of the solar system's history", said Project Manager, Yuichi Tsuda, at a news conference in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan.

Hayabusa2 arrived at Ryugu in June 2018.

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

Hayabusa2 is the first to successfully collect underground soil samples from an asteroid and comes ahead of a similar mission planned by the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration team at another asteroid. The subsurface samples that resulted from the blast are considered to be priceless for research.

The latest touchdown is the last major part of Hayabusa2's mission.

In a 2017 paper, project director Tsuda and another JAXA colleague wrote that Hayabusa2 might be able to carry out another asteroid fly-by after dropping off its re-entry capsule to Earth.

Price tag for the Hayabusa2 mission, which was launched in December 2014. The dust samples are expected to land in the Australian desert.

The asteroid is about 250 million kilometers away from Earth and the successful mission is said to be of considerable scientific and strategic significance.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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