Japan's Hayabusa-2 probe to finally land, starting mining asteroid Ryugu on 22 Feb

Hayabusa-2 is approaching the milestone 3 years after it left Earth for the diamond-shaped asteroid.

A Japanese probe sent to study a near-Earth asteroid and find clues to how our solar system was formed is expected to make a touchdown on the rock later this month.

The Hayabusa2 probe is expected to make a touch down on the Ryugu asteroid at 8 am local time on 22 February, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said.

"The landing point is decided and how we're going to land is confirmed...we want to do our best to achieve this without making mistakes," Yuichi Tsuda, the mission's project manager at JAXA told AFP.

Japans Hayabusa-2 probe to finally land, starting mining asteroid Ryugu on 22 Feb

An artistic representation of the Hayabusa-2 probe making its long-awaited touchdown. DLR

The probe is approaching its big milestone three years after it blasted off towards a diamond-shaped asteroid in 2014.

In October, JAXA announced that it was putting off the touchdown for a few months to better prepare after data collected by the probe on its approach showed how much more rugged the asteroid's surface was than they expected.

Around the same time, two 10-kilogram observation rovers and its MASCOT — Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout — lander were deployed from the orbiting Hayabusa-2 spacecraft onto Ryugu's surface.

Asteroid Ryugu being its rocky self. Image: Hayabusa2.jaxa

Asteroid Ryugu being its rocky self. Image: Hayabusa2/JAXA

Built with sensors, Hayabusa-2 can take images at different wavelengths, study mineral composition using its high-power microscope, read surface temperatures and detect the strength of magnetic fields in and around the asteroid.

The $260 million-Hayabusa2 mission was launched in December 2014, and is expected to return with samples from Ryugu in 2020.

By collecting these samples from Ryugu, scientists are looking for answers about how the universe and the life in it came to exist, and whether elements from space helped give rise to life on Earth.

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