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Space cannon ready: Japan to shoot asteroid for samples in 2014 mission

Published time: October 22, 2013 03:49
Edited time: October 24, 2013 11:56
In 2013 the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency are sending the space probe, Hayabusa 2, on a long journey to an asteroid named 1999 JU3 (Image by Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency)

In 2013 the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency are sending the space probe, Hayabusa 2, on a long journey to an asteroid named 1999 JU3 (Image by Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency)

A unique space cannon developed for Japan’s Hayabusa 2 spacecraft has successfully test-fired on Earth in preparation for a 2014 mission. During its upcoming journey into space, the cannon will blast an asteroid and mine samples of its soil.

The test took place in the Japanese prefecture of Gifu, paving the way for the Hayabusa 2 spacecraft to extract soil samples from the asteroid, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) announced on Monday.

During the mission of Hayabusa 2, scheduled to begin in December 2014, the space probe will extract soil from inside the asteroid. In order to do this, it will be equipped with a collision device designed to shoot at the surface of the asteroid from a distance of 100 meters with metal shell ammunition moving at a speed of two kilometers per second.

JAXA hopes to create a small (a few meters in diameter), artificial crater from which Japanese scientists can extract valuable samples capable of revealing the history of the formation of cosmic bodies of this type.

“A new function, [a] ‘collision device,’ is considered to be [on board] to create a crater artificially,” JAXA explained on its website, adding that collecting samples from the surface that is exposed by a collision will ensure acquiring “fresh samples that are less weathered by the space environment or heat.”

In order to calibrate the precision of the cannon, JAXA engineers had to overcome a number of challenges. However, the agency assures that all problems have already been solved.

Image by Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency

“We were able to solve several problems associated with the development of the device. During the tests, the projectile hit right on target, and with the expected speed,” JAXA engineer Takanao Saiki said.

Japanese scientists actively began exploring asteroids with the Hayabusa mission, which returned to earth in June 2010 after exploring a 500-meter-long rock-rich S-type Itokawa asteroid.

Hayabusa 2 is a successor of the first spacecraft and is scheduled to be launched in 2014 to conduct research of a C-type asteroid temporally called ‘1999 JU3.’ It is believed to contain a higher concentration of organic matters and water.

“Minerals and seawater which form the Earth as well as materials for life are believed to be strongly connected in the primitive solar nebula in the early solar system, thus we expect to clarify the origin of life by analyzing samples acquired from a primordial celestial body such as a C-type asteroid to study organic matter and water in the solar system and how they coexist while affecting each other,” JAXA posted on its website.

So far, research into ‘1999 JU3’ revealed that it is a sphere approximately 920 meters in diameter with an albedo on the surface of about 0.06. The rotation period of the celestial object is approximately 7.6 hours.

Hayabusa 2 is expected to reach its target in the middle of 2018 before departing back to Earth in 2019.

Comments (10)


David Bruce James 23.10.2013 06:41

To my belief this is the first serious use of a rail gun to launch a space vehicle and dunderheads are worried about the displeasure of aliens because we are utilizing this technology. Hogwash. No pollution of the air by rocket fuel. No pieces parts falling out of the sky because they have become waste. Same thing goes for litter in the traffic areas of near space. And it would be unbelievably inexpensive to weaponries rail guns from pounding bad guys at a picnic in Afghanistan to slamming a feral hog with a cast iron sink west of Houston. Some of these commenters should not be asked what is for din din.


Steven Severn 22.10.2013 16:28

Cannon in Earth orbit seems the first overt step toward weaponising space. That cannon could shoot satellites as well as meteors. Can the world trust Japan not to allow the US to use it in this way?


Domenic Patrone 22.10.2013 16:17

It seems that Japan might find itself embroiled in a war with an extraterrestrial power if they are not cautious. Just fire upon an asteroid and see what happens! It could contain alien lifeforms who are displeased with thier actions!! Better to communicate first, then take actions as appropriate. :)

View all comments (10)
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