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Space probe landed on asteroid, says Japan

Hayabusa2 is the first to successfully collect underground soil samples from an asteroid.

A computer graphics image of the Hayabusa2 spacecraft above the asteroid Ryugu (ISAS/JAXA via AP)
A computer graphics image of the Hayabusa2 spacecraft above the asteroid Ryugu (ISAS/JAXA via AP)

Data indicates a spacecraft successfully landed on a distant asteroid and completed its historic mission of collecting underground samples that scientists hope will provide clues to the origin of the solar system, Japan’s space agency said.

Hayabusa2 had created itself a landing crater in April by dropping a copper impactor.

Thursday’s mission was to land inside the crater and collect underground samples that scientists believe contain more valuable data.

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The shadow, centre above, of the Hayabusa2 spacecraft after its successful touchdown on the asteroid Ryugu (JAXA via AP)

The Hayabusa2 craft is the first to successfully collect underground soil samples from an asteroid and its achievement comes ahead of a similar mission planned by the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration team at another asteroid.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said it has confirmed data showing Hayabusa2 touched down and rose safely after collecting the samples as planned.

Takashi Kubota, a Hayabusa2 project member at JAXA, was beaming when he showed up at an unexpectedly early news conference to announce the result.

The moment the success was announced in the command centre, everyone stood up, cheered and applauded, some of them making victory signs.

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A monitor shows Hayabusa2 project team members celebrating the spacecraft’s second touchdown on an asteroid in the control room in Japan (Yu Nakajima/Kyodo News via AP)

“It was a success, a big success,” Mr Kubota said.

“We achieved success in all scheduled procedures.”

The spacecraft had started its gradual descent from its home location on Wednesday.

In the final landing phase on Thursday, Hayabusa2 hovered at the height of 30 metres (100ft) above the asteroid and quickly found its landing marker left from the earlier mission.

The actual landing was just a few seconds.

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.

Everything went perfectly, even better than perfect, as if Hayabusa were reading our minds Takashi Kubota, Hayabusa2 project member

Landing was a challenge for Hayabusa2 because of a risk of getting hit by dust and debris that remain at the crater, Mr Kubota said.

“Everything went perfectly, even better than perfect, as if Hayabusa were reading our minds,” he said.

He said JAXA plans to send the spacecraft, which was on its way back to the home position above the asteroid, to examine the landing site from above.

The asteroid, named Ryugu after an undersea dragon palace in a Japanese folk tale, is about 300 million kilometres (180 million miles) from Earth.

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

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