The Japanese space agency said Tuesday that the Hayabusa2 spacecraft’s mission was a perfect success and that the goal of bringing back samples from a distant asteroid has been met, including the first gas samples from space.
Speaking at an online news conference on Tuesday, researchers from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said a number of sandy and blackish particles were observed inside a storage device from the capsule that landed in an Australian desert on December 6.
They said the particles are believed to have been collected during the probe’s first touchdown on asteroid Ryugu.
The researchers also said that the gas contained in the storage unit came from the asteroid and that this is the first time a gas sample has been delivered from space to Earth.
JAXA project manager Tsuda Yuichi said it was a dream come true: “We now have asteroid particles from outside the Earth’s atmosphere, something we’ve always dreamed of.”
The Hayabusa2 space probe, launched in December 2014, landed over the asteroid in June 2018.
The following February, Hayabusa2 successfully made its first landing on Ryugu and collected rock samples, JAXA said at the time.
The initial touchdown on the asteroid had to be postponed for a while as JAXA found the surface of the asteroid, which at the time was about 300 million km from Earth and 900 meters in diameter, to be more rocky than initially thought. and it needed more time to ensure the safe landing of the probe.
The agency, however, was able to locate a flat area near Ryugu’s equator that was free of rocks larger than 60 cm.
Scientists, according to JAXA, successfully landed the probe on a much smaller landing area than initially planned.
The initial landing zone near the equator was only six meters in diameter, JAXA said.
During its mission Hayabusa2, prior to its landing on the asteroid, it released a small-sized Surface Scout Mobile Asteroid, also known as MASCOT, jointly developed by the German and French space agencies, which successfully landed on the asteroid.
Two small robotic rovers were also launched by Hayabusa2 and successfully landed on Ryugu, JAXA confirmed.
The rovers took pictures of the asteroid and performed other functions such as measuring its surface temperature.
JAXA said Ryugu’s images captured by the robots initially revealed a cluster of irregular rocks and a lack of flat surfaces for the main probe to land on.
The 600kg Hayabusa2, launched from Tanegashima Space Center in southwest Japan in December 2014, had no major problems during its 3.2 billion-kilometer journey.
The agency said that in total Hayabusa2 would have to make three landings on the asteroid and collect samples of soil, rock and gas and would remain close to Ryugu for a year and a half.
Hayabusa2 returning to earth and the capsule that could hold soil, rock and gas samples he collected from Ryugu now sees his mission completed.
The collected samples are believed to contain water and other materials that could support life, JAXA said.