Hayabusa2 has been eyeing Ryugu since mid-2018 when it first began creeping up on the asteroid that floats between Earth and Mars in an elliptical orbit. The craft finally touched down on the roughly 3,168-feet in diameter space rock on Friday morning Japanese time and fired a bullet-like device into its surface to collect asteroid samples. But like any remote space mission, everything didn’t go according to plan.
During Hayabusa2’s approach, JAXA scientists noticed that it was covered in large hunks of gravel instead of the chalky dust coating that they expected. They even had to conduct an impromptu test at the University of Tokyo on December 28 to see if the probe’s sampling gun would even still function as intended, given the drastically different surface. Fortunately, it did and Hayabusa2 was able to go on to collect its first-ever asteroid sample.
JAXA is planning two more sampling shots in the next few weeks. After it’s collected enough particles of Ryugu, Hayabusa2 will leave the asteroid in December 2019 and is expected to return to Earth by the end of 2020. If it makes it back in one piece, scientists will begin examining its bounty of space rocks that will hopefully help unlock the secrets of how life began to develop in earliest days of the solar system.