Japan’s Hayabusa 2 makes asteroid touchdown for seconds after 4-year chase.

Hayabusa 2’s predecessor made history in 2005 when it became the first-ever probe to land on an asteroid, called Itokawa. After a four-year chase, a probe from Japan’s space agency called Hayabusa 2, or Falcon, pounced on its prey 300 million kilometres away. Around 8:00 a.m. on Friday Tokyo time, the space ship touched down on Ryugu, a 450-million-ton carbonaceous rock in an orbit between Earth and Mars, according to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. It was a precision landing on a patch of even ground six meters across, about the size of a baseball pitcher’s mound on a surface studded with boulders. Touchdown lasted only a few seconds, with the probe firing an explosive charge into the ground, collecting the ejected debris and lifting off.

Hayabusa 2’s predecessor made history in 2005 when it became the first-ever probe to land on an asteroid, called Itokawa. But it failed to fire the projectile and came back with only a handful of dust. A richer sample could help scientists learn more about the formation of the solar system roughly 4.5 billion years ago and the composition of heavenly bodies. Hayabusa 2 and a similar mission by the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration could serve as templates for commercial space exploration, according to Chris Lewicki, who ran asteroid-mining startup Planetary Resources for almost a decade.

Lewicki, who is now a co-founder of a space venture at ConsenSys, a blockchain startup that acquired Planetary Resources in October said, the level of surface exploration is unprecedented. And getting into the undersurface of the asteroid is extremely interesting, not only scientifically but also for understanding resources.

Hayabusa 2 has been orbiting the asteroid since June, studying the planetoid with an array of sensors that includes a near-infrared spectrometer, thermal-infrared imager and a Lidar to map the surface and determine its rotation speed and gravity. In September, it dropped two rovers, for the first-ever mobile exploration of an asteroid surface. Ryugu, measuring about 900 meters in diameter, was nicknamed after a magical underwater palace in a Japanese folktale that mirrors the Greek myth of Pandora. The rock showed no traces of water which could be used to extract hydrogen for rocket fuel a disappointment for would-be asteroid miners like Lewicki.

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