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Japan's Hayabusa2 probe lands on asteroid Ryugu for 2nd time


TOKYO -- The Japanese space probe Hayabusa2 successfully touched down on the asteroid Ryugu for the second time on July 11, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) announced.

JAXA said on the morning of July 11 it had confirmed the space probe started ascending following its descent toward the asteroid that began the previous day. If it successfully collected materials from below the surface of an artificial crater that it made on the asteroid, it would mark the first time in history for a space agency to accomplish such a feat.

The touchdown brought to completion a key mission for the space probe that reached Ryugu, currently located some 250 million kilometers from Earth, on June 27 last year. The probe is scheduled to return to Earth at the end of 2020 after leaving the asteroid sometime between November and December 2019.

Hayabusa2 began to descend toward Ryugu from an altitude of 20 kilometers on July 10, and JAXA judged the following morning that the touchdown was successful.

When it reached an altitude of 30 meters above the surface of the asteroid, Hayabusa2 switched to full autonomous function, using a camera to track a target marker that it had dropped earlier on the surface to guide its descent. The probe is believed to have aimed to land 2.6 meters away from the target marker.

Members of the Hayabusa2 operation team applaud after confirming that the probe had begun ascending from the surface of the asteroid Ryugu. (c) ISAS/JAXA

Workers at the JAXA Institute of Space and Astronautical Science in Chuo Ward in the city of Sagamihara in the eastern Japan prefecture of Kanagawa observed changes in radio waves sent from the probe during its descent. When they confirmed that it was rising again, they erupted in applause with smiles on their faces.

Under the touchdown operation plans, the probe was supposed to rise from Ryugu immediately after a cylinder-shaped protrusion on the bottom of the probe came into contact with the surface.

When Hayabusa2 first successfully touched down on Ryugu in February this year, particles that flew up clouded the camera and an altimeter, decreasing their sensitivity. Because of this, the JAXA team lowered the altitude at which full autonomous function would begin from 45 meters during the first touchdown to 30 meters this time, making it possible to find the target marker with a higher degree of certainty and measure its altitude. Hayabusa's field of view becomes narrower when it switches to autonomous function.

(Japanese original by Etsuko Nagayama, Opinion Group)

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