Hayabusa2 Asteroid Sample Return Mission Blasts Off

JAXA, the Japanese space agency successfully launched the Hayabusa2 spacecraft on its way to an asteroid sample return mission overnight. Liftoff, which took place aboard a Mitsubishi Heavy Industries H-IIA rocket, designated #26, took place at 1:22:04 PM Japan Standard Time on Wednesday. December 3rd from the Tanegashima Space Center. According to JAXA, the launch raised the success ration of the H-II A/B family to 96.7%. One hour, 47 minutes and 21 seconds after liftoff, the booster placed its payload in an Earth escape trajectory.

Hayabusa2’s target is asteroid 1999 JU3, which is a C-Type carbonaceous body in an Apollo orbit, defined as an “Earth-crossing NEA (Near Earth Asteroid) with a semi-major axes larger than Earth’s (named after asteroid 1862 Apollo).”

Following a four year cruise powered by its ion engines, Hayabusa2 is scheduled to arrive at its destination in 2018, where it will linger for 18 months before departing in time for a 2020 return to Earth. While on station, the spacecraft, which is an improved version of the original Hayabusa mission which successfully returned from a journey to the S type asteroid Itokawa in 2010, will deploy a small lander named “MASCOT.” The lander, which was built by Germany and France, contains some components from the Rosetta mission’s Philae lander, and will be capable of changing its location one time by means of a mechanical “jump.”  Hayabusa2 will deploy a landing guidance marker for its own descent, as well as three smaller, coffee can sized Minerva landers which are also capable of hopping. Finally, it will also play its own version of the 1980’s classic arcade game “Asteroids,” explosively firing a solid copper projectile into the asteroid’s surface in order to expose original material which has not been subject to weathering during its billions of years in space.

A video demonstrating the planned operations is below.



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