The unmanned Hayabusa2 probe will explore the asteroid 1998KY26 after completing its current mission of delivering a capsule believed to be containing samples of sand from the asteroid Ryugu to Earth, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said Tuesday.
The probe is expected to reach 1998KY26, which is traveling between Earth and Mars, in July 2031. The asteroid is only about 30 meters in diameter, smaller than the roughly 900 meter diameter of Ryugu, and rotates about every 10 minutes, compared to about seven hours for Ryugu.
According to JAXA, it will be the first close-up observations of an asteroid with a diameter of less than 100 meters. Comparison between data from Ryugu and 1998KY26 is expected to help researchers understand the structure of Earth-crossing celestial bodies.
After dropping the capsule on Earth in December this year, Hayabusa2 will perform a swing-by using Earth’s gravity to head toward 1998KY26. On its way to 1998KY26, Hayabusa2 will observe another asteroid, 2001CC21, in July 2026. The spacecraft will conduct a swing-by two more times, in December 2027 and June 2028, before reaching 1998KY26.
Hayabusa2 will conduct observations of 1998KY26 from above its surface. It may also try landing on it.
During its long journey, Hayabusa2 will also observe the distribution of dust in the solar system and extrasolar planets.