Japanese Asteroid Explorer to Start a Six Year, 3.26 Billion Mile Trip on Sunday

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency is set to launch its new explorer Sunday that will shoot out an explosive device on an asteroid to make a small crater, collect its subsurface material and make a round trip of 5.24 billion kilometers before returning to earth.

After its launch from Tanegashima in southwestern Japan, Hayabusa2 explorer will arrive at the 1999 JU3 asteroid in mid-2018 and spend about 18 months surveying the 900-meter object. It will begin its trip back home at the end of 2019 and arrive sometime around at the end of 2020.

The explorer’s “impactor” device will create a crater on the surface of the asteroid, allowing Hayabusa2 to collect the rare material. It will be the first time that an artificial crater will be produced on an asteroid in such a fashion, according to the agency.

Other remote-sensing instruments, including a rover, will also be dispatched on the 1999 JU3.

“Exploring such celestial bodies brings us an opportunity to know how the solar system was born and formed, and how the original materials of life on Earth were created and evolved in space,” the agency said.

Hayabusa2 is about 1.25 meters tall and 1 meter wide, and weighs about 600 kilograms with fuel. It cost approximately ¥29 billion ($245 million) to develop the explorer, Noriko Shiraishi, a spokeswoman at the agency, told Japan Real Time.

Hayabusa 2 will be launched on an H-IIA rocket created by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. Japan Meteorological Agency is predicting cloudy weather on Sunday in Kagoshima prefecture, with a 40% chance of rain.

This article was originally written by Jun Hongo for The Wall Street Journal.

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