The Japanese space agency said Thursday that its Hayabusa2 spacecraft had landed on an asteroid 250 million kilometers from Earth, and believed to have collected the first-ever underground samples of asteroids.
The debris collected this time by the probe, which landed for the last time on the Ryugu asteroid in February, will better understand the origins of life and the evolution of the solar system, according to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.
"We got a part of the history of the solar system," said Yuichi Tsuda, project manager at Hayabusa2, at a press conference, adding that the collection of surface samples and underground would compare them.
The samples targeted by Hayabusa2 during his last mission were a layer of debris believed to have accumulated on the surface after the probe created an artificial crater in April by firing a projectile at the asteroid.
The surface of Ryugu is altered by the effect of solar winds, but it is thought that the underground samples contain traces of the creation of the solar system 4.6 billion years ago. According to JAXA, these dark colored samples may contain organic matter and water.
Hayabusa2 sits on its targeted area 7 meters wide, located 20 meters from the center of the artificial crater. The probe extended a tube up to the surface and fired a small metal projectile, successfully capturing debris beneath the surface while they were floating, said the agency.
"The landing has been a great success because (Hayabusa2) has responded perfectly, in line with our expectations," said Takashi Kubota, professor at the JAXA Space and Astronomy Institute in Sagamihara , near Tokyo.
(Asteroid Ryugu)[Photo courtesy of JAXA]
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(The JAXA staff reacts in the control room)
Tsuda attributed the latest success to a team effort, claiming that the "excessively self-critical mind" of each member allowed them to identify all the worst possible scenarios. He added that by eliminating each of them, it was possible to take a second landing with confidence.
As it takes 14 minutes to transmit information between the Earth and the probe, which suggests that the control room may be too late to intervene in case of a problem. Hayabusa2 operated autonomously once it had reached 30 meters above the surface.
The probe began its descent Wednesday from its fixed position 20 km above the surface of the asteroid.
With the collection of samples, the probe mission is almost complete and the return trip to Earth will begin at the end of this year.
"We are only in the development stage (samples) and we need to use (the probe) carefully to bring them back," Tsuda said.
[PPTD] This animation shows the DEM (digital map of altitude) near the 2nd touchdown point (© JAXA, University of Tokyo & collaborators). This is also from our article on operations: https://t.co/qaS3JZDAdF pic.twitter.com/bgpVj8m74X
– HAYABUSA2 @ JAXA (@ haya2e_jaxa) 2019 年 7 10 日
Hayabusa2, which reached stationary position above Ryugu last June after traveling 3.2 billion km in an elliptical orbit around the sun for more than three years, is expected to reach Earth by the end of 2020.
More than 80 JAXA controllers in the control room began to clap around 10:20 am, when data was provided to confirm the success of the touchdown and probe as many of them signaled victory. .
While JAXA officials confirmed the probe's landing, some 200 people also applauded at the nearby Sagamihara City Museum while watching a live broadcast from the control room.
Some shouted "congratulations" by taking photos and taking videos of the screen showing the control room.
"I want the rock samples imported safely to Japan," said Jyutaro Haga, 11, who lives in Myanmar but returned to Japan during the summer holidays.
"I am filled with deep emotion, this project was the first in the world and I was very nervous, but I am happy that the hit was successful," said a 48-year-old woman from Sagamihara.
"This is a wonderful result," said Deputy Secretary General of Cabinet, Kotaro Nogami. "We expect that (the probe) will come back safely, after performing the first collection of an underlying sample of an asteroid."