Japan's Hayabusa2 probe made a "perfect" touchdown Thursday on a distant asteroid, collecting samples from beneath the surface in an unprecedented mission that could shed light on the origins of the solar system.
If the second collection is successful, Hayabusa 2 will have far surpassed its predecessor, but it still faces the hard task of returning to Earth in as intact a condition as possible.
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, said it has confirmed data showing Hayabusa2 touched down and rose safely.
After the probe started its descent on Wednesday and collected the samples, "the probe's mission is nearly complete, and it will start its journey back to Earth at the end of this year", Kyodo said. It landed inside that crater on Thursday and collected samples that scientists believe contain valuable data unaffected by space radiation and other environmental factors.
In April, Hayabusa 2 dropped an explosive on the asteroid to create an artificial crater.
JAXA officials said they had also observed signals indicating the probe had risen from the surface as planned.
Asteroids are essentially leftover building materials from the formation of the Solar System.
The spacecraft had started its gradual descent from its home location Wednesday.
As it takes 14 minutes to transmit information between Earth and the probe, raising the possibility the control room could be too late to intervene if a problem arises, Hayabusa2 operated autonomously once it reached 30 meters above the surface. They were confident that a second landing could be pulled off.
That probe returned with dust samples from a smaller, potato-shaped asteroid in 2010, despite various setbacks during its epic seven-year odyssey and was hailed as a scientific triumph. It extended its sampling tube to the ground, shot a pinball-size bullet to break open the surface, and sucked up the debris that was blasted off.
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.
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.
A photo of the crater taken by Hayabusa2's camera shows that parts of the asteroid's surface are covered with materials that are "obviously different" from the rest of the surface, mission manager Makoto Yoshikawa told reporters.
If successful, it will be the second time Hayabusa-2 has landed on the desolate asteroid as part of a complex mission that has also involved sending rovers and robots. "I'm so excited about finding out about all these unknowns".
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