Japanese space probe Hayabusa2 delivers the first gas samples from space: JAXA

The Japanese space agency said on Tuesday that the mission of the Hayabusa2 spacecraft was a perfect success and the goal of bringing back evidence from a distant asteroid, including the first gas samples from space, was achieved.

Speaking at an online press conference on Tuesday, researchers at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said several blackish and sandy particles were observed inside a storage device in the capsule that landed in an Australian desert on 6 December.

They said the particles were believed to have been collected during the first touching of the probe on the asteroid Ryugu.

The researchers also said that the gas contained in the storage unit comes from the asteroid and that it is the first time that a gas sample is delivered from space to Earth.

JAXA project manager Tsuda Yuichi said it was a dream come true: “We now have asteroid particles outside the Earth’s atmosphere, which we have been dreaming of for a long time.”

The Hayabusa2 spacecraft, launched in December 2014, landed above 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 landing on the asteroid had to be postponed for a while because 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 originally thought. and needed more time to ensure the safe landing of the probe.

However, the agency managed to locate a flat area near Ryugu’s equator, which does not contain rocks larger than 60 cm.

The scientists, according to JAXA, successfully landed the probe on a much smaller landing area than originally planned.

The initial landing area near the equator was only six meters in diameter, JAXA said.

During its mission, Hayabusa2, before touching the asteroid, launched a small mobile surface device, also known as MASCOT, jointly developed by German and French space agencies, which successfully touched the asteroid.

Two small robotic 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.

JAXA said that images of Ryugu captured by the robots initially revealed a group of rugged rocks and a lack of flat surfaces for the main probe to land.

The 600 kg Hayabusa2, which was launched from the Tanegashima Space Center in southwestern Japan in December 2014, did not encounter major problems during its journey, totaling 3.2 billion kilometers.

The agency said that in total, Hayabusa2 was scheduled to make three asteroid landings and collect soil, rock and gas samples and will remain close to Ryugu for a year and a half.

Hayabusa2 returning to earth and the capsule containing soil, rock and gas samples that he collected from Ryugu now see his mission completed.

The samples collected are believed to contain water and other materials that could support life, JAXA said.