JAXA Schedules New Asteroid Sampling Mission for 2014

Artist's illustration of Hayabusa2 probe after the device's explosion on 1999 JU3.(Credit: JAXA/Akihiro Ikeshita)

Artist’s illustration of Hayabusa2 probe after the device’s explosion on 1999 JU3
(Credits: JAXA/Akihiro Ikeshita).

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is preparing a new asteroid mission following the success of Hayabusa1, the first round-trip asteroid mission that retrieved samples of the asteroid Itokawa in 2005.

“We hope to find the key of the creation of the solar system and the birth of life,” said Professor HiItoshi Kuninaka, head of the team developing Hayabusa2.

The new mission, called Hayabusa2 (Japanese for “Falcon2”), is scheduled for launch in 2014 aiming for the carbonaceous asteroid 1999 JU3. The 920 meter (3,010 ft) large space rock has been chosen because it is widely believed to contain organic matter, such as that which may have contributed to life on Earth. In this respect, 1999 JU3 is substantially different from Itokawa, which was a smaller rocky S-type asteroid.  Hayabusa2 is due to arrive at the asteroid in mid-2018, when it will conduct research over a period of 18 months before departing for Earth at the end of 2019. Before the landing on the surface, the probe  will deploy a device set to explode above the surface to create a crater in which the spacecraft will land. This will allow Hyabusa2 to collect samples of the fresher material inside the crater or the material knocked out of the crater.

Hayabusa1 experienced problems with onboard equipment that resulted in collection of a much smaller sample than expected; the mission nevertheless succeeded in collecting and bringing back to Earth microscopic dust particles –the first asteroid sample returned to Earth. The analysis that followed suggested that the Itokawa originated from a larger asteroid and the dust had been lying on the asteroid for about 8 million years before being collected by the Japanese probe.

Hayabusa2 will cost more than $400 million, $150 million more than the first one. The spacecraft is supposed to return to Earth at the end of 2020 with samples of asteroid 1999 JU3 and possibly clues to the origins of life on Earth.

Below, an interview to Professor HiItoshi Kuninaka, head of the team developing Hayabusa2 (Courtesy of JAXA):

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pyqmLfGZ-IE&w=420&h=315]