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Wednesday, 29 October 2014

JAXA shows off second-generation asteroid explorer 'Hayabusa 2'

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Japan's space agency showed off a space probe to be launched next month that it hopes will answer questions about how life seeded Earth.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) intends to land Hayabusa 2 on an asteroid orbiting between Earth and Mars. It is set to be launched by an H-2A rocket from the Tanegashima Space Center here on Nov. 30.

Its predecessor, launched in 2003, returned to Earth after a seven-year mission, during which it landed on an asteroid and collected sample material, an unprecedented achievement.

JAXA showed off the near complete body of its second-generation asteroid explorer to reporters on Oct. 27.

Hayabusa 2 will embark on a six-year journey to collect samples from an asteroid called 1999 JU3. Scientists expect the mission to shed light on the origins of the solar system and life on Earth.

The spherical asteroid is about 900 meters diameter and is thought to contain organic compounds and water, the key to life. It was first observed in 1999.

Hayabusa 2 arrived at Tanegashima island, south of Kagoshima, on Sept. 22. The capsule, impactor and other parts were then assembled.

A JAXA official said Hayabusa 2 will be attached to the rocket after fueling operations are complete and the exterior of the explorer has been inspected for flaws.

Hayabusa 2 is slated to reach the asteroid between June and July in 2018, and spend 18 months on the celestial body before returning to Earth between November and December in 2020.

The explorer will release the impactor to smash a crater and collect mineral samples that have not been exposed to and affected by the heat of the sun.