posted at 00:50
Author Name: Miwa Suzuki
Bad weather delays Japan asteroid probe lift off
The 31 billion yen project is sending a probe towards the unpoetically-named 1999 JU3 asteroid in deep space. "The asteroid is carbonaceous and we may find organic matter and water, the stuff of life," Hitoshi Kuninaka, project leader at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, said in an interview posted on the agency's website. Hayabusa2, about the size of a domestic refrigerator, is expected to reach the asteroid in mid-2018 and will spend around 18 months studying the surface. In a galactic first, Hayabusa2 will drop an "Impactor" that will explode above the asteroid's surface and fire a metal bullet into the crust at a speed of 7,200 kilometres an hour - six times the speed of sound on Earth. The bullet is expected to create a small crater that will enable the probe to collect material from the asteroid. If the Hayabusa2 mission goes well, pristine asteroid samples will be returned to Earth in late 2020. The probe is the successor to JAXA's first asteroid explorer, Hayabusa - the Japanese term for falcon - which returned to Earth in 2010 with dust samples after a trouble-plagued seven-year mission. The spherical 1999 JU3 asteroid, which is around a kilometre across, is believed to contain significantly more organic matter and water than the potato-shaped rock studied by the original Hayabusa.

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