The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, says its Hayabusa2 space probe has successfully landed on the asteroid Ryugu in its first attempt to collect rock samples there.
JAXA says the spacecraft touched down on the asteroid at around 7:29 AM on Friday, Japan time.
Hayabusa2 began its decent toward Ryugu a little after 1:00 PM on Thursday from an altitude of 20,000 meters, aiming for a small, six-meter-wide touchdown zone.
The spacecraft switched to autonomous landing mode about 500 meters above the asteroid. It then used sensors to calculate its position and maneuver itself to the landing point.
Hayabusa2 features a rock-collecting device about one meter long that extends from its bottom and comes in contact with the asteroid's surface. It is designed to fire bullets into the surface and gather the rocks that this stirs up.
JAXA says one bullet was successfully fired as planned.
Cheers erupted in JAXA's control room near Tokyo when the probe's successful touchdown was confirmed.
Mission Manager Makoto Yoshikawa expressed relief, saying he believes the achievement represents a new start for planetary science.
Hayabusa2 is to return to an altitude of 20,000 meters after completing its scheduled steps, and prepare for the next touchdown.
JAXA plans to make one or two more attempts to collect rock samples before the spacecraft leaves Ryugu.
Hayabusa2 started its journey in 2014 and arrived above the asteroid 300 million kilometers from Earth in June of last year. The mission's primary goal is to collect rock samples that could provide insights into the origin of life. The spacecraft is scheduled to return to Earth toward the end of 2020.