Japan's space probe first to capture material beneath asteroid surface

Katie Ramirez
July 12, 2019

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency is filled with cheers as a Japanese spacecraft lands a successful touchdown on Ryugu asteroid.

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

Hayabusa2 is engaged in the world's first attempt to create an artificial crater on an asteroid and collect samples from its subsurface rocks.

Scientists are hoping the probe will have collected unidentified materials believed to be "ejecta" from the blast after landing briefly in an area some 20 metres away from the centre of the crater.

Hayabusa2 is equipped with various types of technology to help it observe and sample Ryugu, including a camera, that has beamed back images of the desolate asteroid's surface, and sensing equipment to record an array of data.

Hayabusa2 is the first spacecraft to successfully collect underground samples from an asteroid. During the touchdown, Hayabusa2 would extend its sampling tube to the ground, shoot a pinball-size bullet to crack the surface and suck up the debris that got blasted off. Landing was a challenge for Hayabusa2 because of a risk of getting hit by dust and debris that remain at the crater, Kubota said.

Then in April, the probe fired an explosive device called an "impactor" to create a crater on Ryugu's surface and bring up materials that have not been exposed to millennia of weathering.

Jaxa's Hayabusa Two probe is on a mission to study the ancient asteroid Ryugu in a bid to help scientists better understand the origins of the universe.

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It was the second landing for the unmanned Hayabusa-2, which touched down on February.

The asteriod mission first reached Ryugu - a kilometre-wide asteriod, with a relatively dark surface and nearly zero gravity - in June 2018 and made its first touchdown on the surface in February 2019.

The probe launched in December 2014 and arrived at the dice-shaped space rock on June 27, 2018.

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

The spacecraft captured the photographs under as it left the asteroid's surface.

Sciencemag reported that all technicians and engineers in the spacecraft's control room near Tokyo could be seen and heard cheering and applauding on a YouTube live stream when the Project Manager Yuichi Tsuda proclaimed the operation a success just before 11 a.m. local time.

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.

The Hayabusa2 mission was launched in December 2014, and has a price tag of around 30 billion yen ($270 million).

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