Asteroid-blast space cannon on track, Japan scientists say

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) associated professor Makoto Yoshikawa displays the full-scale model of Japan's space p
Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) associated professor Makoto Yoshikawa displays the full-scale model of Japan's space probe "Hayabusa" (Falcon) at JAXA's laboratory in Sagamihara in Kanagwa prefecture, suburban Tokyo on May 19, 2010

Japanese scientists readying to blast a crater in an asteroid to find out what it is made of said Wednesday they have successfully tested their new space cannon.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said the huge weapon would fire a metal bullet at the of asteroid 1999JU3 some time in 2018.

The Hayabusa-2, which will launch the weapon, will then land on the surface and take samples of the newly-disturbed soil as part of a project searching for organic materials or for any sign of water.

"The Hayabusa-2 project is progressing as planned," a JAXA spokesman told AFP.

The craft is set to be carried into space next year by one of JAXA's dedicated H2A rockets, which are launched from southern Japan.

The probe will be flung on a trajectory that its operators hope will take it into the path of 1999JU3 four years later.

The unpoetically-named 1999JU3 is thought to be more likely than many asteroids to harbour the building blocks of life.

Once it has reached its destination, Hayabusa-2 will hover above the asteroid to release the space cannon, which is intended to drift gently towards the barren surface.

As the weapon floats down, Hayabusa-2 will make its way around to the other side of the asteroid, where it can shelter its delicate sensor array from any flying debris or shrapnel.

With its mothership safely out of the way, the canon will detonate itself, hurling a large bullet-like object into the surface below it.

After the dust has settled, Hayabusa-2 will return to inspect the crater, touching down on the asteroid's surface where it will scoop up samples for analysis back on Earth.

The probe is expected to find its way home some time in 2020, carrying with it a valuable scientific load that is expected to be seized on by scientists.

The pristine materials the blast will expose are an essential part of the puzzle for researchers trying to understand how planets are formed, and—possibly—will help them to learn about the way lifeforms could arise, JAXA said.

Hayabusa-2 is a successor to the original "Hayabusa", a deep-space probe that picked up dust from a potato-shaped space rock and returned to Earth 2010.

Scientists hope Hayabusa-2 will build on the work of its predecessor, which was only able to collect surface dust samples that could have been altered by years of exposure to the various forms of energy it encountered in space.

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© 2013 AFP

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Oct 23, 2013
Let me guess - the cannon runs on whale fat?

Oct 23, 2013
Unless the wiki page is wrong, it's not even a gun.

The wiki page says that there are actually three parts. The mother ship will drop the penetrator module towards the asteroid (assuming it will be in free-fall towards the surface, using spinning to orient itself towards the surface, but the wiki doesn't specify). The mother ship will then also deploy a remote camera which will watch the impact while the mother ship hides on the back side.

The impactor module is composed of 4.5 kg of plastic explosive shaped charge, with a 2.5 kg flat copper plate on the side facing the asteroid. When the explosive fires, it causes the copper plate to fold up into a cone like an umbrella and shoot towards the asteroid (at apx 2km/second, which is about 4,500 miles per hour).

That's according to the Hayabusa-2 wiki page. If that's correct then the story above is completely wrong.

I would worry that the copper will just shoot into the surface and only make a tiny hole, like it does on tank armor.

That's according to the Hayabusa-2 wiki page. If that's correct then the story above is completely wrong.

Not wrong, but incomplete. I found a couple of good references at the Lunar and Planetary Institute website www lpi usra edu, do a search there for Hayabusa-2. The probe should fire a tantalum projectile that will impact at about 300 m/s. The first Hayabusa probe was similarly outfitted, but failed to fire.

Oct 23, 2013
Ah, there appears to be some confusion here.

Both Hyabusa missions have a small bb gun inside their sample collection horn that are supposed to fire while the sample collection horn is in contact with the asteroid. That is supposed to knock any lose pieces into the collection horn (since a vacum system won't work in space, lol). That is the tantalum projectile you're talking about.

The story above is clearly not talking about the tantalum bb gun, since it can't use that from around the opposite side of the asteroid.

Hyabusa 2 has an actual explosive impactor in addition to the bb gun, which is designed to actually make a hole in the asteroid and expose interior material (which works as I described above).

Here's a detailed story about the differences between the two probes:


Hyabusa 2 also has a mini-lander that will move around the surface of the asteroid independently from the mother ship.

You're right, I didn't realize that the impactor was a second, separate component. Thanks!

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