Early today, Japan successfully launched Hayabusa 2 (H-IIA Flight F26), a successor to JAXA’s earlier asteroid explorer Hayabusa, from the Yoshinobu Launch Complex at the Tanegashima Space Center at 11:22 PM ET. The original Hayabusa is recognized as the first explorer to return asteroid samples to Earth in 2010.
Hayabusa 2’s target is asteroid 1999 JU3, upon which the explorer will create an artificial crater using an impactor. The hope is to expose subsurface materials for retrieval. Scheduled arrival is 2018.
Manufactured by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, the 600kg explorer will also release three small MINERVA-II rovers to the asteroid surface. These small rovers move by hopping and will conduct further surface probes. In addition, a smaller lander named MASCOT will touchdown on the asteroid’s surface using four observation devices.
Hayabusa 2 is the third mission to land on an asteroid. NASA’s NEAR-Shoemaker mission was the first to do so in 1996.