New York: Building on its successful first round-trip mission to space rock Itokowa, Japan`s space agency is readying to launch an ambitious new asteroid sampling probe in 2014.
The new space mission, Hayabusa2, is scheduled for launch in 2014 and is aimed at the asteroid 1999 JU3, a large space rock about 3,018 feet in length.
The mission is due to arrive at the asteroid in mid-2018, loiter at the space rock and carry out a slew of challenging firsts before departing the scene at the end of 2019.
The Hayabusa2 spacecraft is scheduled to return to Earth with samples of asteroid 1999 JU3. The probe`s name is Japanese for "Falcon2".
Officials with the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said Hayabusa2, like its Hayabusa predecessor, will also involve a significant level of international cooperation.
The initial Hayabusa mission launched in May 2003 and returned samples of Itokawa the first asteroid samples ever collected in space in June 2010.
The Hayabusa2 mission will rely on NASA`s Deep Space Network of ground stations to help track the spacecraft. The spacecraft`s return capsule will also land in Australia, another similarity to the first flight.
Hayabusa2 is expected to stay with asteroid 1999 JU3 for more than a year, 18 months in all, thereby allowing ample time for observation and careful sample collection, according to the mission`s project manager Makoto Yoshikawa from Japan`s the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS).
Asteroid 1999 JU3 is of particular interest to researchers because it consists of 4.5-billion-year-old material that has been altered very little. Measurements taken from Earth suggest that the asteroid`s rock may have come into contact with water.
The C-type asteroid is expected to contain organic and hydrated minerals, making it different from Itokawa, which was a rocky S-type asteroid. Asteroid 1999 JU3 is also larger than Itokawa, which was 1,771 feet long.