Japanese space scientists have unveiled the asteroid hunting space probe they hope to launch later this year on a mission to mine a celestial body. The probe, named Hayabusa-2, is expected to be flung into space on a rocket for a mammoth four year voyage to the unpoetically-named 1999JU3 asteroid.
When it gets there, some time in 2018, it will release a powerful cannon which will fire a metal bullet at the asteroid’s barren crust, once the probe itself has scuttled to safety on the far side of the rock. It will then return to scoop up material uncovered by the cannon blast. If all goes well, these pristine asteroid samples will be returned to Earth by the time Tokyo hosts the Olympic Games in 2020.
At a weekend press conference, Hitoshi Kuninaka, project leader at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said he and his team were readying to redouble their efforts for this "new voyage". "I’m grateful as the new asteroid probe is now nearly complete," he said, according to Jiji Press. The probe is the successor to JAXA’s first asteroid explorer, Hayabusa, the Japanese term for falcon, which returned to earth in 2010 with dust samples after a trouble-plagued seven-year mission.