Japan Successfully Launches Asteroid Blasting Space Probe
In the dead of night last night (for the US, anyway) the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) successfully launched their ambitious "space cannon," a probe called Hayabusa 2 that will land on an asteroid (1999 JU3) and quite literally blast its crust in order to gather samples that could lead to groundbreaking discoveries.
You can watch the launch here, in both Japanese and English.
The mission has drawn obvious comparisons to Philae, Rosetta's lander that became the first to land directly on a comet. So naturally, Rosetta reached out to Hayabusa 2 on Twitter for moral support:
I'm so ready for launch tomorrow at 05:22:04 CET Just a few hours left. I hope #hayabusa2 is as excited as I am. 1999 JU3, get ready!— MASCOT Lander (@MASCOT2018) December 2, 2014
This new version of the Hayabusa (which means "falcon" in Japanese), is the successor to the original Hayabusa, which brought the first asteroid samples back to Earth in 2010 but was irreparably damaged by a solar flare. In less than three weeks, it will be slingshot into space on a rocket in order to mine an asteroid. It will do a swingby past Earth sometime in 2015 and spend the next four years traveling to the asteroid. Upon arrival, it will shoot a metal bullet from a cannon at the asteroid, obliterating the crust and creating an artificial crater before collecting material ejected from the blast. The researchers hope that the asteroid samples will reach Tokyo for further study by 2020.
If the mission is successful, then the Hayabusa 2 will only be the third spacecraft to land on an asteroid. It is intended to shed light on the composition of asteroids, which could lead to further insight on the origin of asteroids and similar extraterrestrial structures. The resulting data could also improve the efficiency of asteroid exploration technologies.
See you again HAYABUSA2! pic.twitter.com/2bt9B8VCl7— Abe S. 阿部新之助 (@AvellSky) December 3, 2014