A Japanese spacecraft has touched down on a distant asteroid on a mission to collect material that could provide clues to the origin of the solar system.

Workers at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency control centre applauded as a signal sent from space indicated the Hayabusa2 spacecraft had touched down.

Japan SpaceAssociate Prof Yuichi Tsuda of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency speaks about the touchdown of the Hayabusa2 spacecraft (Kyodo News via AP)

During the touchdown, Hayabusa2 is programmed to extend a pipe and shoot a pinball-like object into the asteroid to blow up material from beneath the surface.

Japan SpaceThe Japanese spacecraft is on a mission to collect material that could provide clues to the origin of the solar system (ISAS/JAXA via AP)

If that succeeds, the craft would then collect samples to eventually be sent back to Earth. Three such touchdowns are planned.

The asteroid, named Ryugu after an undersea palace in a Japanese folktale, is about 900 metres (3,000ft) in diameter and 280 million kilometres (170 million miles) from Earth.