• Kyodo

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The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency will launch its Hayabusa2 asteroid explorer aboard an H-IIA rocket from the Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima Prefecture on Nov. 30, officials said Tuesday.

The probe is a successor to the Hayabusa, which returned to Earth in June 2010 after touching down on an asteroid and collecting surface samples. It was the first time a probe brought asteroid material back to Earth.

In an effort to gather further data about the origin of the solar system, Hayabusa2 will target an asteroid named 1999 JU3, which swings close to Earth and is about 900 meters in size. Its rocks may contain water — and possibly organic matter.

The roughly 600-kg space probe is expected to reach the asteroid in 2018 and return to Earth in 2020.

“It serves to enhance our international presence to conduct challenging space exploration by making use of our nation’s scientific and technological power,” Hakubun Shimomura, minister of education, culture, sports, science and technology, said at a news conference.

The H-IIA rocket will be launched by contractor Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. Also in the payload will be three small satellites, including one developed by the Kyushu Institute of Technology.

Liftoff is set for 1:24 p.m.

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