Japan has launched a spacecraft on a six-year mission to bring back samples of asteroid 1999 JU3, weeks after the European Space Agency achieved mixed success with its Rosetta Mission.
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency launched the Hayabusa 2 asteroid probe on Wednesday, after two delays due to bad weather. It is scheduled to reach the asteroid in 2018 and then conduct an 18-month long probe. It is expected to re-enter Earth by 2020.
Asteroids are space debris that are said to have organic molecules that can help understand the origins of life.
The European Agency achieved the first ever robot landing on a comet last month, and though the Philae Lander ran out of power soon after, it reportedly found organic molecules on the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.
Japan's latest mission is also expected to collect crucial carbon samples from the asteroid, but Hayabusa 2 will have to step out of the shadows of its predecessor Hayabusa, which was beleaguered with numerous glitches but did manage to bring back asteroid dust to Earth.
— Russell Lewis (@NPRrussell) December 3, 2014
The first such asteroid-mission by Japan was undertaken in 2003, when it launched the Hayabusa probe to collect samples from the asteroid (25143) Itokawa, but the mission was marred with glitches and delays, as elaborated by NASA Spaceflight.
The spacecraft had suffered damage months after launch in a solar flare, which jeopardized its power production.
When it was just months away from sending a lander on the asteroid, two of the spacecraft's wheels failed.
When Hayabusa finally sent out its lander, Minerva, on 12 November 2005, it drifted off into space. When the spacecraft itself was landed on the asteroid to collect some samples, the sampling system failed, and in the following days, the Japanese agency lost all communication with it.
When contact was finally made in 2006, its window for returning to Earth had expired, thus pushing its return to 2009 and adding an extra three years to the mission.
After multiple problems with its ion engines, Hayabusa's reached Earth in June 2010, and its return capsule was recovered though the spacecraft itself was destroyed on re-entry.
Despite the glitches, the mission did bring back the first ever samples of an asteroid in the form of dust grains.
"About 1,500 grains were identified as rocky particles, and most of them were judged to be of extraterrestrial origin, and definitely from Asteroid Itokawa," the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency had said.
The samples were reported to have traces of minerals such as pyroxene and olivine among others.