The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, says the Hayabusa2 space probe has touched down on the asteroid Ryugu and started to collect rock samples.
JAXA says it received data at around 8:00 AM on Friday, Japan time, or 23:00 UTC on Thursday. Hayabusa2 began descending toward Ryugu a little after 1:00 PM on Thursday from an altitude of 20,000 meters.
The spacecraft switched to autonomous landing mode about 500 meters above the asteroid. It used sensors to calculate its position and maneuver itself to the landing point.
Hayabusa2 has a rock collecting device, about one meter long, that extends from its bottom and comes in contact with the asteroid's surface during the touchdown.
The device will be used to gather rocks that stir up after bullets are fired at the surface.
JAXA officials say these procedures take only a few seconds, and the probe is programmed to promptly take off and return to an altitude of 20,000 meters once finished.
JAXA plans to carry out one or two more similar missions before Hayabusa2 leaves the asteroid for good in November or December this year. The spacecraft is scheduled to return to Earth toward the end of 2020.
The probe was launched in 2014 and arrived above Ryugu in June last year. The asteroid is about 300 million kilometers from Earth.