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Japan to launch Hayabusa 2 asteroid-hunting probe November 30

Image Credit: Akihiro Ikeshita

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) have decided to launch the H-IIA Launch Vehicle No. 26 (H-IIA F26) with the Asteroid Explorer Hayabusa 2 onboard at 1:24:48 p.m. (Japan Standard Time) on Nov. 30, 2014. The launch will take place from Yoshinobu Launch Complex at the Tanegashima Space Center.

Also included in the payloads are three small satellites, including one developed by the Kyushu Institute of Technology. The Hayabusa 2 spacecraft is expected to embark on a four-year voyage to the 1999 JU3 asteroid.

The Hayabusa 2 probe is currently scheduled to launch atop a Mitsubishi H IIA rocket from Tanegashima launch site on Nov. 30. Photo Credit: Mitsubishi Ltd.

The Hayabusa 2 probe is currently scheduled to launch atop a Mitsubishi H IIA rocket from Tanegashima launch site on Nov. 30. Photo Credit: Mitsubishi Ltd.

When it gets there, some time in 2018, it will release a powerful cannon which will fire a metal bullet at the asteroid’s barren crust, once the probe itself has scuttled to safety on the far side of the rock. It will then return to scoop up material uncovered by the cannon blast. “It serves to enhance our international presence to conduct challenging space exploration by making use of our nation’s scientific and technological power,” said Hakubun Shimomura, Japan’s minister of education, culture, sports, science and technology, at a news conference.

If all goes well, the pristine asteroid samples will be returned to Earth by the time Tokyo hosts the Olympic Games in 2020.

Asteroid Explorer Hayabusa 2 is a successor of Hayabusa (MUSES-C), which revealed several new technologies and returned to Earth in June 2010.

While establishing a new navigation method using ion engines, Hayabusa brought back samples from the asteroid Itokawa to help elucidate the origin of the solar system. Hayabusa 2 will target a C-type asteroid 1999 JU3 to study the origin and evolution of the solar system as well as materials for life by leveraging the experience acquired from the Hayabusa mission.

To learn more about the origin and evolution of the solar system, it is important to investigate typical types of asteroids, namely S-, C-, and D-type asteroids. A C-type asteroid, which is a target of Hayabusa2, is a more primordial body than Itokawa, which is an S-type asteroid, and is considered to contain more organic or hydrated minerals — although both S- and C- types have lithologic characteristics.

Minerals and seawater which form the Earth as well as materials for life are believed to be strongly connected in the primitive solar nebula in the early solar system, thus we expect to clarify the origin of life by analyzing samples acquired from a primordial celestial body such as a C-type asteroid to study organic matter and water in the solar system and how they coexist while affecting each other.

The 1999JU3 asteroid was selected in part because of its make-up and also because of its relative accessibility.


This article originally appeared on Astro Watch and can be viewed here: Hayabusa 2

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Tomasz Nowakowski is the owner of Astro Watch, one of the premier astronomy and science-related blogs on the internet. Nowakowski reached out to SpaceFlight Insider in an effort to have the two space-related websites collaborate. Nowakowski's generous offer was gratefully received with the two organizations now working to better relay important developments as they pertain to space exploration.

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