On November 30th, Japan’s Hayabusa 2 will be leaving leaving Earth aboard a Mitsubishi-made rocket to make its way to an asteroid — but not to blow it up. The Japanese spacecraft will follow in its predecessor’s footsteps and observing a space rock for science. But unlike the first Hayabusa that explored an asteroid rich in silicate and nickel-iron, this one’s headed for one that’s made of clay and rocks: materials that could contain organic matter and water. The unmanned vehicle will traverse outer space for more than three years until it finds asteroid “1999 JU3,” which it’s scheduled to reach by June 2018.
Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency is set to launch its new explorer Sunday that will shoot out an explosive device on an asteroid to make a small crater, collect its subsurface material and make a round trip of 5.24 billion kilometers before returning to Earth. After its launch from Tanegashima in southwestern Japan, Hayabusa2 explorer will arrive at the 1999 JU3 asteroid in mid-2018 and spend about 18 months surveying the 900-meter object. It will begin its trip back home at the end of 2019 and arrive sometime around at the end of 2020. The explorer’s “impactor” device will create a crater on the surface of the asteroid, allowing Hayabusa2 to collect the rare material. It will be the first time that an artificial crater will be produced on an asteroid in such a fashion, according to the agency. Other remote-sensing instruments, including a rover, will also be dispatched on the 1999 JU3. “Exploring such celestial bodies brings us an opportunity to know how the solar system was born and formed, and how the original materials of life on Earth were created and evolved in space,” the agency said.