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. With its second successful touchdown on 11 July, the Hayabusa2 did just that as it collected subsurface samples from an asteroid 300 million km from Earth.
JAXA's Hayabusa2 project is an asteroid sample-return mission like NASA's OSIRIS-REx.
"The landing was a huge success as [Hayabusa2] made a ideal move nearly in line with our expectations", Takashi Kubota, a professor at JAXA's Institute of Space and Astronautical Science told Japan's Kyodo news agency.
Hayabusa2 is the first spacecraft to successfully collect underground samples from an asteroid.
The first landing happened earlier this year and is believed to have collected some material. Now, the fridge-sized Hayabusa-2 probe is expected to extract samples from the asteroid and bring them back for research.
On Thursday, Hayabusa2 landed on Ryugu again to collect those sub-surface samples.
The shot at Ryugu's surface took place in April when the spacecraft deployed its free-flying Small Carry-on Impactor (SCI) containing the copper "bullet" and a camera (DCAM3) as the probe itself navigated its way to safety away from the blast and resulting debris.
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.
That means that the rock from under the asteroid's surface is relatively unchanged from when the solar system was first made and can provide scientists with information about how Earth and other planets were formed.
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 Hayabusa2 mission was launched in December 2014, blasting into space on a Japanese rocket launched from the Tanegashima Space Centre.
Among the Hayabusa2 mission's innovations are its ability to create a crater on the surface of the asteroid, and its transport of the MASCOT robot.
The names were chosen due to the cloud of dust kicked up when Hyabusa 2 collided with the asteroid's surface. "We love you. Take care Hayabusa2", the musician told the team.
With the latest landing, Hayabusa2 has completed the key tasks of its complex mission.
Launched in December 2014, the Hayabusa2 mission has a price tag of around 30 billion yen ($270 million) and is scheduled to return to Earth with its samples in 2020.