In 2005, the spacecraft Hayabusa made two descents on the asteroid Itakawa to collect samples. It was supposed to blast a tantalum pellet into the asteroid and take bits of rock blasted away by the projectile, but the tantalum pellet did not fire and the scientists got worried that the mission had failed—it didn’t wholly fail, it was later on found. But at the time, they had decided, even before the probe returned to Earth, to send a follow-up mission and call it Hayabusa 2. In January last year, the government had approved the same.
The mission is said to launch in 2014. Because there really isn’t plenty of time to improve the spacecraft, Japanese engineers had to prioritize on what upgrades will be made. Compared to its predecessor, the Hayabusa 2 will generate more power and will have a Ka-band communications antenna that would beam data and photos back to Earth much faster. The software to be used is now also upgraded to ensure resilience from faults resulting from radiation and any other threats.
Hayabusa 2’s destination this time will be the asteroid 1999 JU3. It is expected to survey the rock, utilizing the instruments it is armed with, such as imagers, a spectrometer, and a terrain-mapping altimeter. Scientists say that the Hayabusa 2 samples could contain data of the tumultuous early phases of the solar system’s formation, which includes the basic building blocks of life, like amino acids.
[via Astronomy Now]