Japan’s Hayabusa mission to blast artificial crater on asteroid 1999 JU3

Artist’s view of the Japanese probe Hayabusa 2 (Falcon 2) approaching the dark, carbonaceous asteroid 1999 JU3 after a 4-year journey to the asteroid belt. Credit: Akihiro Ikeshita / JAXA

Next July the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) plans to launch the probe Hayabusa 2 to asteroid 1999 JU3 and blast it with a 4.4 pound (2 kg) copper projectile to excavate an artificial 9-foot-wide crater. The probe will detach from the cannon, which is armed with the powerful explosive HMX. When detonated, the resulting blast will propel the projectile toward the surface at more than 4,300 mph (6,900 km/hr).

A small camera hovering nearby will observe the explosion, but to protect its sensitive instruments from flying debris, Hayabusa 2 will “hide out” on the other side of the asteroid.

Hayabusa 2 hides out on the asteroid’s backside after deploying the “cannon” to launch the projectile to 1999 JU3′s surface. The blast is expected to excavate a 9-foot-wide crater.  This week JAXA successfully tested the unique space cannon. Credit: Akihiro Ikeshita / JAXA

The crater-making exercise will uncover pristine subsurface rocks not exposed to the degrading effects of cosmic rays and solar radiation. Hayabusa 2 will then return to the crater, extend an arm-like probe and gather up crumbles of rock loosened by the blast.

1999 JU3, about 3,018 feet (920 meters) across, is a dark C-type asteroid thought to be similar in composition to carbonaceous chondrite meteorites which contain not only carbon, but amino acids and water-rich minerals. C-type asteroids are the most common and may have delivered some of the essential chemical building blocks important to the origin of life on Earth during the formation of the planets 4.5 billion years ago.

Hayabusa 2 samples the crater floor after the blast, gathering fresh rocks shielded from the damaging effects of cosmic and solar radiation. Credit: Akihiro Ikeshita / JAXA

Hayabusa 2 is expected to arrive at the asteroid sometime in 2018, survey and sample the it for a year and a half, depart in December 2019 and return to Earth in December 2020. Many improvements and backups have been made to the probe, the successor to Japan’s first Hayabusa asteroid sample mission launched in 2003.

The 1,770 foot long stony asteroid Itokawa, site of Japan’s first Hayabusa mission that launched in 2003 and returned samples to Earth in 2010. Credit: JAXA

Despite multiple equipment failures the craft serendipitously gathered some 100 minute dust grains from the S-type (stony) asteroid Itokawa and returned them to Earth in 2010. Chemical analysis showed that Itokawa resembled the familiar LL chondrite (Low total iron, Low metal) meteorites that have rained down on Earth over the centuries and found their way into many meteorite collections.

Artist’s impression of the Hayabusa-II mission with MASCOT deployed and landed on the asteroid’s surface. Credit: JAXA, German Aerospace Center

Working with both Germany and France, the current mission will also carry a little roving robot named MASCOT (Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout) that can hop about on the asteroid taking detailed, close-up photos and other measurements during its 16-hour lifetime on the surface.

For more on this exciting mission, click HERE.

6 thoughts on “Japan’s Hayabusa mission to blast artificial crater on asteroid 1999 JU3

  1. Hello there, with solar time here… it begins today here in Europe.
    An un-scientific remark, but for a fellow Star Wars appreciator… That pic of the probe hiding attached to the asteroid reminds me quite of what did the Millennium Falcon in Ep.V (or a similar move in Ep.II, also in asteroid field) :D

    • Hey thanks astroron. We must be cousins or something :)
      It sure sounds like the Japanese learned a lot from their first mission that they can apply to make this one more successful.

  2. 4 comets and a bright Moon.Sweeping the sky with 20 power binoculars I thought for a moment I might have seen something faint and fuzzy near Procyon. This is where Lovejoy is located. Well, the Moon will get dimmer and the comets brighter.

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