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Delayed due to weather twice, the launch of Japan’s Hayabusa-2 asteroid probe has now been scheduled for Wednesday.
This probe comes with four mini-rovers and an impactor!
Hayabusa 2’s target is a 1km-wide asteroid labelled 1999 JU3, after the year when it was discovered. It is a C-type asteroid, thought to contain more organic material than other asteroids, and so might again help scientists understand how the Solar System evolved.
The Japanese space agency JAXA intend for Hayabusa 2 to catch up with asteroid 1999 JU3 in 2018. It will land a small cube-shaped probe called MASCOT (Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout) developed by the German Space Agency (DLR) together with French space partners the Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES). The lander is able to move its centre of gravity so that it can tip itself over in order to move across the asteroid’s surface. The three small rovers, called Minerva-II, will also roam the asteroid, gathering data. Hayabusa 2 also carries an impactor that will blast a 2-metre-wide crater in the asteroid’s surface, which will allow the spacecraft to collect fragments and bring them home for study in the laboratory. The spacecraft itself is designed to touch down briefly three times to gather samples.