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Hayabusa 2 Sets Sail on Its Grand Voyage to an Asteroid — Japan’s H2A Rocket No. 26 Carrying Hayabusa 2 is Launched Successfully

Japan’s H2A rocket (flight 26) carrying the asteroid explorer Hayabusa 2 was launched from the Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima, Japan, at 1:22 p.m. on December 3rd. At 3:09 p.m. of the same day, Hayabusa 2 separated from the rocket 890 kilometers above the Pacific Ocean as planned, making the launch a success. Other spacecraft, such as the University of Tokyo’s microsatellite PROCYON and Kyushu Institute of Technology’s microsatellite Shin’en 2, shared the rocket ride with Hayabusa 2.

Hayabusa 2 is headed for asteroid 1999 JU3, orbiting 300 million kilometers away between Earth and Mars. At the end of 2015 after making a one-year orbit around the Sun, closely following the Earth’s orbit, Hayabusa 2 will be propelled to enter an orbit close to that of the asteroid by the swing-by maneuver using the Earth’s gravity. Its primary mission is to bring back samples from the surface of the asteroid as well as beneath it, and is expected to return to Earth in 2020.

The target asteroid 1999 JU3 is a C-type asteroid, which means it is composed mainly of carbonaceous materials. It is believed to contain water and organic matter, as well as an abundance of matter that is preserved in a state from when the solar system was formed. Therefore, if the Hayabusa 2 mission succeeds and samples from the asteroid could be analyzed, the mysteries surrounding the birth of the solar system and Earth and the origin of life could potentially be solved. Moreover, 1999 JU3 follows an orbit unusually close to that of Earth; C-type asteroids are found primarily in the outer region of the asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. This makes 1999 JU3 an even more valuable research target.

The launch of the H2A rocket, which was produced in Japan using the country’s latest technologies, for the Hayabusa 2 mission marked the 20th consecutive successful launch. With a 96% success rate, H2A is maintaining its position at or above the 95% mark, considered to be the global standard for reliability. The Japanese government is currently trying to start up a satellite launch business, and an increased trust from other countries will certainly boost this endeavor. In fact, the launch of a foreign satellite for a fee is already scheduled for 2015.