August 30, 2012

Japanese Space Agency Sending Hayabusa 2 To Land On Asteroid

Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online

Following the success of its Hayabusa mission, the Japanese space agency JAXA is shooting for another asteroid in 2018.

Dennis Normille wrote in a report in Physics World that JAXA is planning to land another spacecraft on an asteroid in 2018 to search for clues as to how life on Earth began.

Hayabusa 2 will be the sequel to its previous mission, which was the first to collect material from an asteroid and return it back to Earth in June 2010.

The new mission will be launched in 2014, sending a spacecraft to land on an asteroid named 1999 JU3 in mid-2018, then returning back to Earth in 2020.

Once Hayabusa 2 safely reaches its target, it will fire off fingertip-sized bullets into the surface of the asteroid at speeds of about 1,000 feet per second, and then collect the shrapnel created from the blast.

After moving away, it will detonate an impactor module, firing off a 4-pound projectile into the asteroid to create a 6.5-foot crater.

Hayabusa 2 will then return to the crater and collect more samples from the asteroid, according to Normille. The spacecraft will not be collecting samples that have been exposed to space weather and solar radiation before, but samples that were created in the early days of the solar system.

The asteroid's distance from the Sun means it will be a better environment for preserving water and amino acids, meaning it is a promising candidate in the hunt for signs of life outside Earth.

JAXA proved what it was capable of with Hayabusa, overcoming engine failures, fuel loss, and communication blackouts.

The spacecraft was the limelight of Japan as citizens watched it enter the Earth's atmosphere through Internet streaming, and more than 100,000 people gathered at venues across the world to see the capsule on display.

During the original mission, bullets were not fired due to a malfunction, but the spacecraft still grabbed specks of dust from the asteroid in a collection canister.

Shogo Tachibana, a cosmological chemist at Hokkaido University, said he hopes the material from the second mission will be free of contamination and will give a clearer insight into the early days of the solar system.