Asteroid probe 6 months away from its destination
NHK -- Dec 15
Japan's space agency says its asteroid probe Hayabusa2 is on course to reach its target between Earth and Mars in about 6 months.

JAXA told reporters on Thursday that the probe is flying at around 24 kilometers per second, and has travelled 2.7 billion kilometers so far, with less than 6 million kilometers left to go.

Hayabusa2 was launched in 2014 to land on the asteroid Ryugu and collect rock samples from its surface. Scientists believe such samples could provide clues about the origin of life.

JAXA said that from January, the craft will fire up its ion engines and, if all goes according to plan, get within 20 kilometers of the asteroid -- close enough to enter its orbit -- in June or July.

In the next 18 months, JAXA plans to have Hayabusa2 land on the asteroid 3 times to collect rock samples.

Researchers know the potato-shaped asteroid is about 900 meters in diameter, but very little about its topography, surface temperature or rotation axis.

Hayabusa2 will have only about a month to figure out the best landing sites to maximize its chances of collecting water and organic matter samples without hitting an obstacle.

News source: NHK
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