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A government panel has approved trial production of equipment to be loaded on the Hayabusa-2 space probe, the successor to the unmanned Hayabusa probe that returned to Earth in June after a seven-year voyage to the asteroid Itokawa.

The Space Activities Commission, an advisory body to the science minister, also gave the green light Wednesday to producing a new solid-fuel launch vehicle called the Epsilon rocket.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency is aiming to launch the first Epsilon in fiscal 2013 and the Hayabusa-2 in fiscal 2014.

The Hayabusa-2 will journey to an asteroid designated 1999JU3, which appears to be rich in hydrated minerals and organic substances. The probe will be equipped with a newly developed device designed to create a crater on the asteroid’s surface by using explosives to launch objects that will strike the surface at high speeds.

The probe will land on the asteroid, collect samples of rocks and other material in the crater and on the surface, and bring them back to Earth in 2020.

The cost of developing the Hayabusa-2 is estimated at about ¥16.4 billion. The science ministry, which was allotted only ¥30 million for the project this year, intends to seek more funding thanks to the momentum gained from the successful return of the Hayabusa probe.

The Epsilon will be a smaller successor to the M-5 rocket, which was abandoned in 2006. JAXA hopes to cut costs by sharing parts with the current mainstay H-IIA launch vehicle, and by simplifying launch procedures.

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