The Hayabusa 2’s more than three-year journey to asteroid 1999 JU3 has begun. Sometime in 2018, the probe will study the asteroid’s surface before blowing up a portion of the asteroid. And, it’s mission won’t end there. Hayabusa 2 will be returning to Earth near the end of 2020.

What does Japan’s Aerospace Agency hope to accomplish? What every scientist wants to know. The origin of life on Earth.

1999 JU3 is classified as a C-type asteroid. It’s rocky, but might also contain organic matter and even water. Previous observations put the asteroid’s size at “approximately 920m and relatively it looks like a sphere.”

The Hayabusa2 will release an ‘impactor’ on the surface of the asteroid. It will create a crater several meters in diameter. Hayabusa 2 will then collect samples not only from the surface of the asteroid, but also its untouched interior.

Besides the ‘impactor,’ Hayabusa2 will also drop three probes to study the asteroid’s surface.

The CG animation below shows exactly how the ‘impactor’ works and how Hayabusa 2 will collect the samples. Impressive stuff.

This isn’t Japan’s first rodeo with an asteroid. The first Hayabusa mission returned to Earth with samples from an S-type, or siliceous asteroid, back in 2010.

Check out the launch of Hayabusa 2 below. (Fast forward to about 1:09:20)

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