Japan's space agency is readying a new asteroid probe for launch, an ambitious mission that aims to build on the victory of the country's first round-trip asteroid mission that sent the Hayabusa spacecraft to retrieve samples of the space rock Itokowa.
The new Japanese asteroid mission, called Hayabusa2, is scheduled for launch in 2014 and aimed at the asteroid 1999 JU3, a large space rock about 3,018 feet (920 meters) in length. It is due to arrive at the asteroid in mid-2018, loiter at the space rock and carry out a slew of challenging firsts before departing the scene at the end of 2019.
If all goes well, the Hayabusa2 spacecraft will return to Earth with samples of asteroid 1999 JU3 at the end of 2020. The probe's name is Japanese for "Falcon2."
Officials with the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said Hayabusa2, like its Hayabusa predecessor, will also involve a significant level of international cooperation. The initial Hayabusa mission launched in May 2003 and returned samples of Itokawa — the first asteroid samples ever collected in space — in June 2010. [Japan Returns 1st Asteroid Samples to Earth (Photos)]