FILE PHOTO: AN H-IIA rocket carrying Hayabusa 2 space probe blasts off from the launch pad at Tanegashima Space Center on the Japanese southwestern island of Tanegashima, in this photo taken by Kyodo December 3, 2014. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS
TOKYO (Reuters) – A Japanese space probe named after a falcon, Hayabusa-2, has touched on an asteroid more than 300 million km (186 million miles) from Earth on a mission to search for clues about the origin of life, Japan’s space agency said on Friday.
The spaceship’s landing on the asteroid Ryugu, only 900 meters (3000 feet) in diameter, came after a first attempt in October was delayed because it was difficult to choose a place on the asteroid’s rocky surface.
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, said on Friday Hayabusa-2 fired a small projectile into the surface of Ryugu to collect particles, scientists hope the spacecraft will bring back to Earth for analysis.
“We may have caused some concerns due to the delay, but we did our plan perfectly in the past four months to bring it to a successful landing,” project manager Yuichi Tsuda told a news conference.
“It landed in the best conditions between the scenarios that we envisioned,” he said.
It is the second Japanese spacecraft to land on an asteroid after the Hayabusa landed on a near-Earth asteroid named Itokawa in 2005. It was the first to bring asteroid dust back to Earth, although not as much as hoped.
Asteroids are believed to have originated at the beginning of the solar system, and scientists say Ryugu may contain organic matter that may have contributed to life on Earth.
JAXA, the plan is for Hayabusa-2 to lift Ryugu and touch back down to three times. The blown in December 2014 and is scheduled to return to Earth at the end of 2020.
Reporting by Kaori Kaneko and Malcolm Foster; Editing by Paul Tait