After a dysfunctional Hayabusa mission returned to Earth in 2003 with a measly 0.1 milligram of asteroid dust, Japan's Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) didn't give up--it doubled down. In December, the $310-million Hayabusa 2 will launch on an intercept course with a 900-meter-wide asteroid between the orbits of Earth and Mars. Sometime in 2018, the craft will blast its target with a missile, sweep the unweathered surface to harvest samples, then head home with the very first virgin asteroid debris ever collected. Or so we hope.
1 Using a Ka band high-gain antenna (32 kilobits per second), Hayabusa 2 can send and receive more than four times as much data as its predecessor.
2 Two solar array 'paddles' provide up to 2.9 kilowatts of power at a distance of one AU (93 million miles) from the sun.
3 The four ion engines use xenon propellant to push the spacecraft to cruising speeds of 2 kilometers per second, or 4,473 mph.
4 A detachable launcher, which takes a cue from military weapons designed to penetrate tank armor, dispatches from the mothership about 500 meters above the asteroid's surface.
5 At 100 meters, 10 kilograms of explosives turn a copper disk carried by the impactor into a giant bullet aimed at the asteroid.
6 The impact creates a crater 1 meter deep and 10 meters wide.