Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa2 lands on distant asteroid


The Ryugu asteroid is supposed to contain clues about the origins of life

A Japanese probe was asked Friday to take samples on an asteroid 300 million kilometers away, to collect clues about the origin of life and the solar system, scientists said.

Hayabusa2 briefly touched Ryugu's asteroid, fired a shot into the surface to suck up the dust and sent him back to his holding position, officials said from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

A live webcast of the control room showed dozens of JAXA staff members nervous surveillance of the data before the touchdown, before applauding after receiving a signal from Hayabusa2 signaling his landing.

"We managed a touchdown, including shooting a bullet" in the Ryugu asteroid, told reporters Yuichi Tsuda, Hayabusa2 project manager.

"We achieved the ideal touch in the best conditions," he said.

The complicated procedure took less time than expected and seemed to go smoothly, said Hayabusa2 mission director Makoto Yoshikawa.

"I'm really relieved now, it seemed very long until the touchdown took place," he said.

He said shooting the ball – the first of three planned in this mission – "will lead to a leap, or new discoveries, in planetary science".

It is thought that the asteroid contains relatively large amounts of organic matter and water for about 4.6 billion years, when the solar system was born.

The main stages of the Japanese space mission Hayabusa2, which is scheduled to land on the asteroid Ryugu on Friday 22 February.

During a subsequent mission, Hayabusa2 will eventually trigger an "impactor" to blow up materials below Ryugu's surface, allowing the collection of "fresh" materials not exposed to millennia of wind and radiation.

Scientists hope that these samples will provide answers to some fundamental questions about life and the universe, especially if elements of space have helped to create life on Earth.

The former rocker and space queen fan, Brian May, tweeted: "Hooray." Brilliant success for the touchdown on Ryugu.

Spinning-top form

The communication with Hayabusa2 is sometimes interrupted because its antennas are not always directed towards the Earth and it could take several more days to confirm that the bullet was well drawn to allow the collection of samples.

The mission was not quite simple and the landing of the probe was initially planned for last year.

But it was postponed after studies revealed that the surface of the asteroid was more rugged than expected, forcing the JAXA to take longer to find a suitable landing site.

Scientists are now studying data sent over 300 million kilometers to Earth.

The Hayabusa2 mission, priced at around 30 billion yen ($ 270 million), was launched in December 2014 and is expected to return to Earth with its samples in 2020.

The photos of Ryugu – which means "dragon palace" in Japanese and refers to a castle at the bottom of the ocean in an ancient Japanese tale – show an asteroid shaped router on the rough surface.

Hayabusa2 observes the surface of the asteroid with its camera and detection equipment, but also sent two tiny MINERVA-II rover robots as well as the French-German MASCOT robot for easy surface observation.

Scientists have already received data from these probes deployed on the surface of the asteroid.

Hayabusa2, which is about the size of a large refrigerator, is equipped with solar panels and succeeds the first JAXA Asteroid Explorer, Hayabusa, of Japanese origin for Falcon.

This probe returned from a small potato-shaped asteroid in 2010 containing dust samples, despite several setbacks during its epic Odyssey, which lasted seven years, and was hailed as a scientific triumph.

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