Japanese lander touches down on Ryugu asteroid

The Hayabusa 2 spacecraft briefly touched down on asteroid Ryugu on Feb. 21, 2019, in order to collect samples by firing a bullet into the surface.

Descent was relatively slow, but it looks much faster in the video released by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency because it runs at five times normal speed. Because of the low gravity, when the 4.4-pound (2-kilogram) projectile fired into the surface, ejecta quickly encompassed the whole camera view.

Hovering at a position of about 28 feet (8.5 meters), the spacecraft let itself free fall to the surface. Once the bullet was fired with samples hopefully collected inside the sampling device, the spacecraft fired thrusters to climb back out of the asteroids tiny gravity well.

According to JAXA, the Hayabusa 2 team is confident samples were collected. However, another touch-and-go attempt is planned for April. The hope is for up to 100 milligrams of material to be brought back to Earth by December of 2020.

Hayabusa 2 is slated to stay in orbit around the asteroid until December 2019. The 1,300-pound (600-kilogram) spacecraft was launched in December 2014 and achieved orbit around Ryugu in June 2018.

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