Japan’s Hayabusa2 Gets Extended Mission to Space After It Returns With Asteroid Samples

​Japan’s spacecraft Hayabusa2 is now on its way to Earth from an asteroid, bringing samples of the space rock for researchers to examine here on the ground. Rather than ending its run with that delivery, the probe will take off back into space to visit another asteroid.

After Hayabusa2 leaves the samples of Ryugu in December, it will head off toward a new asteroid target: 1998 KY26, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) announced. The craft should reach the space rock in 2031.

Hayabusa-2​ to Continue Space Exploring

Hayabusa2​ reached asteroid Ryugu back in June 2018 and took more than a year to study the object. The probe left Ryugu in November 2019, and its sample-return capsule will take the pieces of the asteroid on Earth with a scheduled December 6th lading in the Australian Outback.

The spacecraft’s first expedition tried to help researchers learn about the composition of Ryugu’s minerals, and therefore, understand more about the origin and development of Earth and the Solar System. The expanded mission will have Hayabusa2​ cruise for a few decades through space in order to focus on planetary defense, interplanetary dust, and exoplanet detection.

An artist’s depiction of the Hayabusa2 spacecraft after inserting its capsule into Earth’s atmosphere for sample delivery. [Image credit: JAXA]
Asteroid 1998 KY26 is a fast-spinning space rock that orbits the Sun between the rotations of the Earth and Mars, sometimes encountering our planet on its 1.37-year journey. The asteroid is around 98 feet (30 meters) in diameter and takes 10.7 minutes to orbit its axis once, JAXA revealed.

The next Hayabusa2​ mission will focus on the distribution of dust within the Solar System by analyzing how zodiacal light shows up at multiple points away from our planet. Zodiacal light is a space glow that appears to move through the zodiac signs. This glow is created by light pushing out pieces of interplanetary dust that float through the Solar System.

The prolonged expedition will also include a high-speed flyby of another celestial body, asteroid 2001 CC21, JAXA officials announced.

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