JAXA Set To Launch Hayabusa 2 In 2014
April 1, 2013

JAXA Set To Launch Hayabusa 2 In 2014

Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's (JAXA) next asteroid exploring spacecraft, Hayabusa 2, will be launching in 2014 on a mission to bring back sand from an asteroid.

Hayabusa 2 will travel through space for four years before arriving at asteroid 1999 JU3, and will not be returning to Earth until 2020. Once the spacecraft reaches its target, it will fire off fingertip-sized bullets into the surface of the asteroid at about 1,000 feet per second and collect the shrapnel from the blast.

The spacecraft will come down to the crater and collect samples from the asteroid that have not been exposed to space weathering and solar radiation. Asteroid 1999 JU3's distance from the Sun means it will be a better environment for preserving water and amino acids, making it a promising candidate in looking for signs of life outside of Earth.

The re-entry capsule on Hayabusa 2 will be detached from the main body to return to Earth while protecting sample sands from the asteroid from high heat at the time of reentry into Earth's atmosphere. The capsule will be the last important role in the mission in carrying the samples back to Earth.

Hayabusa 2 is the successor to the original Hayabusa, which returned to Earth with an asteroid sample in 2010. Hayabusa left the near-Earth asteroid Itokawa in 2010 after traveling for about 1.25 billion miles since its launch in 2003. It was the first space mission to have made physical contact with an asteroid and return to Earth.

JAXA's 950-pound spacecraft succeeded in returning over 1,500 grains of dust from the asteroid when it landed in the Australian outback in June, 2010. Since then, numerous studies have been performed as a result of the payload Hayabusa returned. Last year, Japanese researchers found tiny particles of space dust are what help give an asteroid its shape.

“Our analysis is the initial analysis only, using five tiny particles,” Eizo Nakamura, who worked on the study with colleagues at Okayama University in Tsushimanaka, Japan, said in a statement. “There remain thousands of particles preserved [by] JAXA, so further analyses following our methodology will enable better understanding of space environments on small asteroids.”

Hayabusa 2 will be able to offer even more insights into asteroids, and open up scientists' eyes a little wider for how these space rocks come to be.