• Kyodo


The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency plans to launch a new organization Wednesday specializing in the study of extraterrestrial materials to further investigate how the solar system developed, agency officials said Saturday.

JAXA, as the agency is known, will establish the new organization within its Institute of Space and Astronautical Science in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture.

The group is expected to analyze mineral grains brought back to Earth from the asteroid Itokawa by the Hayabusa probe, as well as rocks taken from asteroid 1999 JU3 by the Hayabusa2, which is expected to arrive in three years and return with the samples by the end of 2020.

It will also likely to study ice and sand brought back from a satellite of Mars by a probe in the early 2020s, they added.

Asteroids are believed to date back to the birth of the solar system, and their composition holds clues as to how the planets developed and how Earth received the water and organic chemicals that allowed life to emerge.

With the new entity, JAXA plans to study asteroid samples to be brought to Earth by the Origin Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) to be launched next year by the NASA, the officials added.

Regolith is the loose material that lies atop bedrock.

JAXA will keep these extraterrestrial materials away from materials on Earth and handle them carefully with special apparatus to be set up in a clean room. They will be stored in containers filled with nitrogen to avoid contact with the atmosphere.

Any rocks brought back from asteroid 1999 JU3 by the Hayabusa2 are expected to contain a tiny amount of organic substances and moisture like those that could have fallen to Earth long ago and facilitated the origin of life.

JAXA also plans to develop a new method for analyzing these samples.

The new study organization is likely to consist of around 10 members and will work with outside organizations, such as the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology and the National Institute of Polar Research.