The Japanese space agency announced it is working to prepare the launch of a new round-trip asteroid mission, after the one that successfully sent the Hayabusha spacecraft to retrieve rock samples from the Itokowa asteroid.
The original mission sent the Hayabusha in space in 2003. The spacecraft returned in 2010 with the first asteroid samples ever collected in space.
The new mission is called Hayabusha2 and it is expected to have a spacecraft transported to asteroid 1999 JU3, a space rock of particular interest to researchers because it consists of 4.5-billion-year-old material that has been altered very little, according to the international press.
The mission is scheduled for launch in 2014 and should arrive at the asteroid in mid-2018. It would depart from the space rock at the end of 2019 to carry back to Earth important asteroid samples.
“It would be great to uncover the origins of the solar system, Earth, the other planets, and life itself by getting information that we can’t obtain here on Earth,” said Akio Fujimura, an advisor in JAXA’s Lunar and Planetary Exploration Program Group. “I’d like us to open up new lines of scientific inquiry that seek to discover these origins.”