Thu, Dec 04, 2014 - Page 1 News List

Japan launches explorer to probe origins of life


A Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) handout shows the H-IIA rocket carrying space probe Hayabusa 2 lifting off from Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima, Japan, yesterday.

Photo: EPA

Japan launched a probe on a six-year mission to a distant asteroid yesterday, weeks after a European spacecraft’s historic landing on a comet.

The explorer, Hayabusa 2, blasted off aboard the main H-IIA rocket from the Tanegashima Space Center in the south of Japan.

The rocket roared away from the Earth’s gravitational pull trailed by orange flames at 1:22pm after launch delays due to bad weather.

Hayabusa 2 successfully separated from the H-IIA and entered the intended orbit around the planet at the start of its mission, according to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

The probe is to use the Earth’s gravity as a slingshot to propel it toward its target. Television footage showed JAXA crew at ground control clapping as the launch was confirmed a success, while social media users around the world tweeted their congratulations.

The ¥31 billion (US$260 million) project aims to send the explorer to the 1999JU3 asteroid in deep space. Once there, it is to blast a crater in the asteroid to collect materials unexposed to millennia of wind and radiation, in the hope of answering some fundamental questions about life and the universe.

It is expected to reach the asteroid in mid-2018 and spend about 18 months in the area. It will also drop tiny MINERVA-II rover robots, as well as a French-German landing package named Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout for surface observation. If all goes well, the samples will be returned in late 2020.

Analyzing the materials could shed light on the birth of the solar system 4.6 billion years ago and offer clues about what gave rise to life on Earth, scientists have said.

JAXA aims to bring 100mg of samples to Earth after a round trip of more than 5 billion kilometers.

The probe is the successor to JAXA’s first asteroid explorer, Hayabusa. The 1999JU3 asteroid is believed to contain significantly more organic matter and water than the rock studied by the Hayabusa.

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