Japanese probe Hayabusa2 lands on asteroid for the second time

The touchdown is the last major part of Hayabusa2's mission. It is due to return to Earth next year

A Japanese spacecraft landed on a distant asteroid on Thursday and collected underground samples that scientists hope will provide clues to the origin of the solar system billions of years ago, Japan's space agency said.

After completing the touchdown, the spacecraft captured material from the space rock's interior that has been exposed by firing a projectile into the asteroid earlier this year.

This handout photograph taken and released by the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS) of Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) on July 11, 2019 shows researchers and employees celebrating after receiving confirmation of Hayabusa2's touchdown on the asteroid Ryugu, at the mission control room in Sagamihara city, Kanagawa prefecture.

The Hayabusa2 space mission began in December 2014 after its predecessor, Hayabusa, concluded its sample return mission from the Itokawa asteroid in 2010.

The Japanese spacecraft landed in the crater on Thursday and collected pristine samples of the asteroid insides that scientists think unaffected by space radiation and other universal factors. 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.

After blasting a crater into Ryugu, it has returned to pick up fresh rubble. A similar mission is planned by NASA on another asteroid, Bennu.

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.

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The complex multi-year Hayabusa2 mission has also involved sending rovers and robots down to the surface.

This is huge because it's the very first time something from an inside of an asteroid has been collected. "We took a historic step", said Yuichi Tsuda, the Hayabusa2 project manager.

Hence, the latest touchdown was particularly hazardous for Hayabusa2, especially given that the spacecraft had to operate autonomously owing to the large distance from Earth.

The probe first reached the Ryugu asteroid in June 2018, carrying out observations and measurements for months.

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

The Hayabusa2 mission was launched in December 2014, and has a price tag of around 30 billion yen ($270m). The dust samples are expected to land in the Australian desert.

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