Japanese probe Hayabusa2 successfully performs 2nd touchdown on Ryugu asteroid

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

During its first touchdown, the Hayabusa 2 fired a 5g pellet at 1050 km/hr into the surface to collect dust particles before returning back to its stationary position, 20 km above the Ryugu asteroid.

JAXA Research Director Takashi Kubota speaks to journalists during a press conference following the Hayabusa2 probe's touchdown on the asteroid Ryugu, at the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS) of Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) in Sagamihara city, Kanagawa prefecture, July 11, 2019.

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 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.

Hayabusa2 made a similar landing at another location on the asteroid in February and collected topsoil samples.

"The landing was a huge success as [Hayabusa2] made a ideal 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 brief landing Thursday is the second time Hayabusa2 has touched down on the desolate asteroid Ryugu, some 300 million kilometres (185 million miles) from Earth. "These dark-colored samples may contain organic materials and water", JAXA added.


Project manager Yuichi Tsuda stated from the mission control room that the touchdown was a success, and that the event "marked a new chapter in history".

Earlier this morning, JAXA also released a series of images taken immediately before and after the spacecraft's touchdown on Ryugu showing the gravel blasted out from beneath the surface that is now scattered across the asteroid's surface. It landed inside that crater on Thursday and collected samples that scientists believe contain valuable data unaffected by space radiation and other environmental factors.

Delighted scientists toasted their success after the spacecraft landed. Scientists hope that analysis of these samples could help them better understand how the solar system formed.

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.

JAXA said the images of Ryugu captured by the robots initially revealed a cluster of bumpy rocks and a lack of flat surfaces for the main probe to land on.

Hayabusa-2 started its mission to reach Ryugu in 2014, launching from Japan's space port Tanegashima.

It was hailed as a scientific triumph regardless of various setbacks throughout its epic seven-year odyssey.

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