Japanese Spacecraft Touches Down on Asteroid to Get Samples

By The Associated Press

TOKYO—A Japanese spacecraft touched down on a distant asteroid on Feb. 22, on a mission to collect material that could provide clues to the origin of the solar system and life on Earth.

Workers at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) control center applauded Friday as a signal sent from space indicated the Hayabusa2 spacecraft had touched down.

During the touchdown, Hayabusa2 is programmed to extend a pipe and shoot a pinball-like object into the asteroid to blow up material from beneath the surface. If that succeeds, the craft would then collect samples to eventually be sent back to Earth. Three such touchdowns are planned.

Associate Prof. Yuichi Tsuda of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) using an image of the surface of the asteroid Ryugu speaks about the touchdown by the Hayabusa2 spacecraft during a press conference in Sagamihara, near Tokyo, on Feb. 22, 2019.  (Kyodo News via AP)
This image released by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) shows the shadow, center above, of the Hayabusa2 spacecraft after its successful touchdown on the asteroid Ryugu, on Feb. 22, 2019. (JAXA via AP)

Japanese Education Minister Masahiko Shibayama said the space agency had concluded from its data after the first touchdown that the steps to collect samples were performed successfully.

JAXA, as the Japanese space agency is known, has likened the touchdown attempts to trying to land on a baseball mound from the spacecraft’s operating location of 12 miles (20 kilometers) above the asteroid.

The asteroid, named Ryugu after an undersea palace in a Japanese folktale, is about 3,000 feet (900 meters) in diameter and 170 million miles (280 million kilometers) from Earth.

“Data analysis from Hayabusa2 confirms that the sequence of operation proceeded, including shooting a projectile into the asteroid to collect its sample material. The Hayabusa2 spacecraft is in the nominal state. This marks the Hayabusa2 successful touchdown on Ryugu,” JAXA said in a release on its website.

Staff of the Hayabusa2 Project watch monitors for a safety check at the control room of the JAXA Institute of Space and Astronautical Science in Sagamihara, near Tokyo, on Feb. 21, 2019. (ISAS/JAXA via AP)