Japan's Hayabusa2 probe makes second asteroid landing

Mission control has been keeping a close eye on the probe 300 million kilometres awayMore

Mission control has been keeping a close eye on the probe 300 million kilometres awayMore

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. In the final landing phase Thursday, Hayabusa2 hovered at the height of 100 feet above the asteroid and quickly found its landing marker left from the earlier mission.

The fridge-sized probe made its second landing on the asteroid around 10:30am (0130GMT), with officials from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) breaking into applause and cheers as initial data suggested the touchdown had been a success.

"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 asteroid, named Ryugu after an undersea dragon palace in a Japanese folktale, is about 300 million kilometres from Earth.

The space agency said that it takes 14 minutes to transmit information between the Earth and the probe. JAXA plans to send the spacecraft close to the asteroid again as early as next week to examine the landing site from above.

Japan's Hayabusa2 probe touched down on a distant asteroid on Thursday (July 11), the country's space agency said, on a mission to collect samples that could shed light on the history of the solar system.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) announced the news on their social media Wednesday morning.

Asteroids are small bodies that gradually formed when bits of cosmic dust repeatedly coalesced, and their makeup is believed to reflect conditions from the time the solar system was formed 4.6 billion years ago.

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

The manoeuvre was aimed at retrieving underground samples from an artificial crater on the surface of the asteroid created in April by a projectile made of the metal tantalum fired by the Hayabusa2 spacecraft.

The mission's main focus is on the collection of materials from within the asteroid's surface.

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

Thursday's mission was to land inside that crater to collect scattered samples that scientists believe contain more valuable clues to the origin of the solar system.

"It would be safe to say that extremely attractive materials are near the crater", Tsuda said.

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.

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

Launched in December 2014, the Hayabusa2 mission has a price tag of around 30 billion yen ($270 million) and is scheduled to return to Earth with its samples in 2020.

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