Japan's asteroid probe Hayabusa2 set for final touchdown

11 July, 2019, 14:15 | Author: Darnell Taylor
  • Japanese probe makes final touchdown on distant asteroid to peek into solar system’s origins

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. By early afternoon, JAXA said the probe had descended around 3 miles and was on track to touch down Thursday on the Ryugu asteroid.

Officials of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) announced around 11 a.m. on July 11 that they had received data confirming Hayabusa 2 made its second landing on the asteroid about 240 million kilometers from Earth.

"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.

A successful landing on the Ryugu asteroid, about 300 million kilometres from Earth, would make it the second time the probe has touched down on the asteroid as part of a complex mission that has also involved sending rovers and robots.

The probe extended a tube to the surface and fired a small metallic projectile from it, successfully capturing the subsurface debris as it floated up, the agency said.

He said JAXA plans to send the spacecraft, which was on its way back to the home position above the asteroid, to examine the landing site from above.

Japan's Hayabusa2 probe began descending on Wednesday for its final touchdown on a distant asteroid, hoping to collect samples that could shed light on the evolution of the solar system.

"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.

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A photo of the crater taken by Hayabusa2's camera after the April blast showed that parts of the asteroid's surface are covered with materials that are "obviously different" from the rest of the surface, mission manager Makoto Yoshikawa told reporters before the latest touchdown.

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.

Ryugu, which means "Dragon Palace" in Japanese, refers to a castle at the bottom of the ocean in an ancient Japanese tale.

The touchdown is the last major part of Hayabusa2's mission, and when the probe returns to Earth next year to drop off its samples, scientists hope to learn more about the history of the solar system and even the origin of life on Earth.

"The world is watching. We love you, take care Hayabusa2", the musician told the team.

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

Hayabusa2 has travelled around 4 billion km around the Sun in an elliptical orbit since its launch in December 2014.

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