New mission being planned for Hayabusa2 space probe

NHK has learned that Japan's space agency is planning to send its asteroid probe Hayabusa2 on another 10-year mission after bringing back samples from the asteroid Ryugu.

Hayabusa2 is scheduled to approach Earth on December 6 to drop a capsule containing the samples onto an Australian desert after a six-year journey.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, is planning to dispatch the probe on another mission to survey one of two asteroids that are rotating at high speed.

The candidate asteroids on the agency's list are asteroid 2001AV43 which Hayabusa2 would reach in November 2029 after flying by Venus, and asteroid 1998KY26 which the probe would reach in July 2031 after passing by another asteroid.

JAXA says both asteroids are rotating on their axis once every 10 minutes. The high-speed spinning indicates that the asteroids' inner structures are likely different from that of asteroid Ryugu on the first mission, which consists of pieces of rocks.

The new mission is expected to be completed about 15 years after the probe first left Earth. JAXA says it hopes to collect data on the effects of long-term space travel on the equipment.

The agency plans to choose Hayabusa2's new destination by September.

The probe was launched in December 2014 and reached Ryugu about 300 million kilometers from Earth in 2018. It left the asteroid in 2019, after touching down twice to collect sand and rock samples.