Asteroid lander successfully launched

The Japanese Hayabusa 2 mission will return a sample of the space rock to Earth

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The Hayausa 2 probe will approache the surface to take a sample of the asteroid as well as setting down landers. Image Credit: JAXA

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Just weeks after the Rosetta comet landing, a new mission has set off bound for another space rock.

Hayabusa 2 blasted off from the Tanegashima Space Centre in Japan on Wednesday morning, headed towards asteroid 1999 JU3.

The mission is due to land on the rock in 2018, and return a sample to the Earth in 2020.

However, unlike Rosetta, Hayabusa 2 isn’t pinning all its hopes on a single lander.

It will have several, including three MINERVA II rovers that will bounce across the 900m asteroid and the Germany-French MASCOT lander that will sit in situ to analyse the surface.

Perhaps the most extreme experiment though is the Small Carry-On Impactor, a 2kg shaped explosive charge that will be fired at the surface to blast a crater.

This will expose material in the comet’s interior that has been protected from sunlight for billions of years.

The mission will be the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA) second sample return mission to an asteroid, the previous Hayabusa having returned to earth in 2010.

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This previous missions had a single rover that unfortunately failed to reach the asteroid, so it is hopped that at least one of the MINERVA II rovers will be successful this time around.