Japanese space probe Hayabusa 2: Touchdown on asteroid Ryugu | Science| In-depth reporting on science and technology | DW | 15.02.2019
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Japanese space probe Hayabusa 2: Touchdown on asteroid Ryugu

Hayabusa 2 has landed on the asteroid and is collecting rocks and dust to take back home to Earth. Landing on a moving object in outer space is not an easy feat. Researchers are celebrating the achievement.

The big moment has come for Japanese space probe Hayabusa 2. This Friday, on February 22, the "Falcon 2" has touched down on asteroid Ryugu. 

Hayabusa 2 touched down briefly on the Ryugu asteroid, fired a bullet into the surface to puff up dust for collection and blasted back to its holding position, said officials from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

A live webcast of the control room showed dozens of JAXA staff members nervously monitoring data ahead of the touchdown before errupting into applause after receiving a signal from Hayabusa2 that it had landed.

"We made a successful touchdown, including firing a bullet" into the Ryugu asteroid, Yuichi Tsuda, Hayabusa 2 project manager, told reporters.

"We made the ideal touchdown in the best conditions," he said. The complicated procedure took less time than expected and appeared to go without a hitch, said Hayabusa2 mission manager Makoto Yoshikawa.

"I'm really relieved now. It felt very long until the moment the touchdown happened," he said.He said the firing of the bullet -- the first of three planned in this mission -- "will lead to a leap, or new discoveries, in planetary science."

Hayabusa 2 had blasted off in December 2014 on a 3.2 billion-kilometer journey (equivalent to roughly 80,000 trips around the Earth's circumference) to Ryugu, whis named after a mythical Japanese under-water castle. The probe carried several landers that touched down on the asteroid in 2018 and collected information.

Among them: the "Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout" (MASCOT) landing vehicle, built by the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and the French space agency CNES, that took images, investigated minerals, gauged surface temperatures and measured magnetic fields on the asteroid.

Samples from outer space

The probe is roughly the size of a large fridge and equipped with solar panels Hayabusa 2's mission is to collect asteroid dust and rocks to bring back to Earth. Researchers hope the information gathered will help them understand more about the origins of our universe.

An earlier Hayabusa mission from 2003 to 2010 was unable to collect as many samples as hoped from a different space rock, but still made history by being the first mission to bring back samples from an asteroid.

If all goes well, Hayabusa 2 will return to Earth with soil and rock samples in 2020, according to JAXA. 

cb/fs (AFP, dpa)

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