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Hayabusa 2 rockets into space on way to asteroid

Paul Sutherland, Feature writer
Dec 3, 2014, 17:10 UTC

Sen—Japan’s Hayabusa 2 probe was sent on its way to an asteroid today after a successful launch atop a H-IIA rocket from the Tanegashima Space Center.

Lift-off came at 1:22:04 Japanese time (04:22:04 UTC) after a four-day delay that had been caused by bad weather on the island site to the south of Japan.

The Japanese space agency (JAXA) reported that the launch vehicle flew as planned and the separation of the Hayabusa 2 occurred one hour, 47 minutes and 21 seconds after lift-off, putting the probe on a trajectory where it can escape the Earth’s gravitational pull.

It is Japan’s second mission to an asteroid, following the mixed success of an earlier probe called Hayabusa in the last decade.

Hayabusa 2 will rendezvous with a one km-wide asteroid labelled 1999 JU3 in 2018. It aims to land a small probe on its surface, and then return samples to Earth. 

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An impression of Hayabusa 2 rendezvousing with the asteroid 1999 JU3. Image credit: JAXA

1999 JU3, named after they year when it was discovered, is a C-type asteroid, thought to contain more organic material than other asteroid, and so will help scientists understand how the Solar System evolved.

It will land a small cube-shaped probe called MASCOT (Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout) developed by the German Space Agency (DLR) together with French space partners the Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES). 

Hayabusa 2 will also carry an impactor to blast a two-metre-wide crater in the asteroid’s surface, which will allow the spacecraft to collect fragments and bring them home for study in the laboratory. 

The probe is the size of a small van, measuring 1.0 metres x 1.6 metres x 1.2 metres, and has two solar panels to provide power. In space it will be driven by an ion engine using xenon propellant.