Wednesday, December 3, 2014

JAXA Hayabusa 2 probe lifts of for Asteroid 1999 JU3

The rocket carrying Hayabusa 2, Japan's latest asteroid probe, blasts off from the south-western Japanese island of Tanegashima. 

Photograph: Kyodo/Reuters

The JAXA Hayabusa 2 probe aims to touch down on rock called 1999 JU3, blast hole in it and analyse debris for clues to origins of life

A Japanese space probe named Hayabusa 2 blasted off on Wednesday, setting off on a six-year round trip to a land on an asteroid, blow a hole in it and collect samples that scientists hope will help reveal the origins of life.

The launch of the probe, postponed twice because of bad weather, comes less than a month after a European Space Agency probe landed on a comet in a pioneering mission, only to have the lander run out of power due to lack of sunlight on its solar panels.

Hayabusa means peregrine falcon in Japanese.

The probe will map the surface of the asteroid before touching down, deploying small explosives to blast a crater and then collect resulting debris.

Asteroids are believed to have formed at the dawn of the solar system and the probe’s target is one called 1999 JU3, which scientists believe contains organic matter that may have contributed to life on Earth.

The probe is expected to arrive at the asteroid in mid-2018 and return with samples in 2020, the year Tokyo hosts the Olympic Games.

The mission should help Japan’s space programme put a troubled past well behind it.

The first Hayabusa probe was unable to collect as much material as hoped but still made history by being the first vessel to bring back samples from an asteroid.

Its seven-year mission ended in 2010 when it blazed a trail over Australian before slamming into the desert.

Both probes were developed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

The first Hayabusa probe was launched on the domestically developed H-2A rocket, as was Hayabusa 2.

In 2003 an H-2A rocket carrying two spy satellites veered off course and had to be destroyed.

The Hayabusa 2 launch was first scheduled for 30 November but delayed twice by bad weather. The last chance for a successful launch before 2016 would have been 7 December.

The European Space Agency’s Philae probe finished a 57-hour mission on the surface of a comet on 15 November, losing battery power due to a poor landing in a spot shielded from the sun it needed to charge the battery for an extended mission.

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