Japan will send another satellite on a mission to capture material from an asteroid and bring it back to Earth for study, scientists say.
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency says a successor to the troubled Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa, which managed to return a capsule to Earth this year, could launch as early as 2104, NewScientist.com reported Wednesday. The cost of the new spacecraft is estimated at $2 billion.
Like its predecessor, it will visit an asteroid to collect dust samples. But whereas Hayabusa visited the 500-yard-wide asteroid Itokawa to collect silicon- and iron-rich dust, Hayabusa 2 will visit a half-mile-sized space rock called 1999 JU3 in search of organic molecules that might have been the genesis of life on Earth.
Although the first Hayabusa mission succeeded in returning its capsule to Earth, it’s not yet clear if it managed to collect any asteroid dust as planned.
Samples gathered by Hayabusa 2 could provide information about life’s origins. One theory of how amino acids first arrived on Earth is that they hitchhiked on asteroids or comets that bombarded the planet in its infancy.
To prove this, researchers must first find amino acids on space rocks — which is Hayabusa 2’s mission, researchers say.