The Japanese space agency said Tuesday the Hayabusa2 space probe mission had been a perfect success and the goal of bringing back samples from a distant asteroid was achieved, including the first gas samples from space.
At an online press conference Tuesday, researchers from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said a series of blackish, sandy particles were observed in a storage device from the capsule that landed in an Australian desert on December 6th.
They said the particles were believed to have been collected during the probe’s initial touchdown on the Ryugu asteroid.
The researchers also said that the gas contained in the storage unit came from the asteroid and that this is the first time a sample of gas 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 that we have long dreamed of.”
The Hayabusa2 space probe, launched in December 2014, arrived over the asteroid in June 2018.
The following February, Hayabusa2 successfully landed on Ryugu for the first time and collected rock samples, JAXA said at the time.
The asteroid’s initial landing had to be postponed for a while as JAXA discovered that the asteroid’s surface, which at the time was about 300 million km from Earth and 900 meters in diameter, was rockier than expected and took more time needed to ensure the safe landing of the probe.
However, the agency was able to locate a flat area near Ryugu’s equator that was free of stones larger than two inches.
According to JAXA, the scientists successfully landed the probe on a much smaller landing area than originally planned.
According to JAXA, the initial landing zone near the equator was only six meters in diameter.
During its mission, before landing on the asteroid, Hayabusa2 released a small mobile asteroid surface scout, also known as MASCOT, which was jointly developed by the German and French space agencies and successfully landed the asteroid.
Two small robot rovers were also launched from 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.
According to JAXA, the images captured by the robots of Ryugu initially revealed an accumulation of bumpy rocks and a lack of flat surfaces for the main probe to land on.
The 600 kg Hayabusa2, which was launched from Tanegashima Space Center in southwest Japan in December 2014, had no major problems during its entire journey of 3.2 billion kilometers.
The agency said Hayabusa2 would make a total of three landings on the asteroid, collecting soil, rock, and gas samples, and would stay near Ryugu for a year and a half.
Hayabusa2 returns to Earth and the capsule, which may contain samples of soil, rocks, and gas that he collected in Ryugu, now sees its mission complete.
The samples collected are believed to contain water and other materials that could potentially aid life, JAXA said.