Japan's Hayabusa2 probe makes second touchdown on distant Ryugu asteroid

Japan's Hayabusa2 probe makes second touchdown on distant Ryugu asteroid

Its final descent to the asteroid from a height of 30 meters was made while the probe was on autonomous mode.

Spokesman Takayuki Tomobe from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said: "The touchdown is successful".

"This is the second touchdown, but doing a touchdown is a challenge whether it's the first or the second", Yuichi Tsuda, Hayabusa2 project manager, said during a press conference.

The ambitious landing attempt and asteroid mining mission, which will take place about 185 million miles from Earth, aim to bring back samples that could shed light on the evolution of the solar system.

JAXA officials said they had also observed signals indicating the probe had risen from the surface as planned. JAXA plans to send the spacecraft close to the asteroid again as early as next week to examine the landing site from above.

Japanese asteroid explorer Hayabusa2 has successfully performed its second landing on the surface of the asteroid Ryugu, Japan's space agency JAXA said on Thursday.

The samples targeted by Hayabusa2 on its latest mission were a layer of debris believed to have piled up on the surface after the probe created an artificial crater in April by firing a projectile at the asteroid.

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

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Thursday's touchdown was meant to collect pristine materials from beneath the surface of the asteroid that could provide insights into what the solar system was like at its birth, some 4.6 billion years ago.

Hayabusa2 briefly landed on Ryugu back in February.

This time around, it had collected samples obtained from beneath the surface after an explosive device the size of a baseball was detonated to give Hayabusa2 access to a wealth of important scientific material.

The second touchdown required special preparations because any problems could mean the probe would lose the precious materials already gathered during its first landing.

The probe is expected to make a brief touchdown on an area some 20 metres away from the centre of the crater to collect the unidentified materials believed to be "ejecta" from the blast.

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.

With one of its most critical missions now finished, the next task is to get Hayabusa2 to safely return to Earth with the samples, Tsuda said.

"The world is watching".

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