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JAXA hopes to repeat asteroid success with Hayabusa2

JIJI

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency unveiled the new asteroid explorer Hayabusa2 to the press over the weekend as it looks to outdo the particle-collecting feat achieved by its predecessor in 2010.

“I’m grateful because the new asteroid probe is now nearly complete,” professor Hitoshi Kuninaka, leader of the Hayabusa2 project team, said Sunday at a JAXA facility in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture.

The agency, he said, is ready to redouble its efforts “for a new voyage.”

The Hayabusa2 succeeds the Hayabusa, which completed a seven-year voyage in June 2010 by bringing particle samples from the asteroid Itokawa back to Earth.

Hayabusa2 is slated to be launched later this year from the Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima Prefecture. Its target is asteroid 1999 JU3, which, unlike Itokawa, contains carbon and water.

JAXA hopes particles and other samples from the asteroid will provide clues on the origin of life and how the solar system was formed.

Hayabusa2 will be equipped with solar panels, an antenna for communicating with Earth and a capsule in which samples of 1999 JU3 will be kept.

Kuninaka, who was responsible for developing the ion engine that powered the original Hayabusa, was realistic about the new spacecraft’s prospects, given all the problems he dealt with during the first voyage.

“Of course, I hope things will go smoothly,” he said about Hayabusa2’s upcoming mission. “We have had many difficulties in the process of developing the new asteroid probe. Space is never an easy place.”