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Japan’s Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is to begin testing new technology capable of altering the course of small and fast asteroids and hopefully prevent collision with Earth. For this, the agency repurposed its Hayabusa-2 spacecraft (initially launched in December 2014) to intercept two distant asteroids and gain valuable insights into the mechanisms required to alter an asteroid’s trajectory.
According to Interesting Engineering, the Hayabusa-2 spacecraft was originally meant to intercept the near-Earth asteroid “162173 Ryugu,” and completed its mission in 2020. In December 2020 JAXA scientists announced that the remaining propellant would be used to extend the spacecraft’s mission. The spacecraft will perform a fly-by of the asteroid “2002 CC21” in July 2026, then a rendezvous with the small and fast-spinning asteroid “1998 KY26” in 2031.
It is still unclear whether the Hayabusa-2 will attempt to alter the course of these asteroids, but there are claims that it may happen since the spacecraft is nearing the end of its operational lifespan.
“1998 KY26”, the target asteroid of 2031, is a nearly spherical object with a diameter of 30 meters that is categorized as a “fast rotating asteroid” due to its remarkable rotation time of just 10 minutes. The object’s rapid rotation creates a unique physical environment near the asteroid’s surface, with centrifugal force exceeding the asteroid’s gravity.
Despite these challenges, the space agency plans for Hayabusa-2 to attach a target marker to the asteroid, thus enhancing our understanding of these celestial bodies.
JAXA emphasizes the significance of understanding small and fast asteroids, given their potential to collide with Earth every 100 to 1,000 years and cause substantial damage. Experts claim that ground-based observations aren’t sufficient and do not provide the necessary information- making close examinations crucial for advancing planetary defense technologies.
Japan’s attempt to test technology capable of altering the course of small and fast asteroids represents a crucial step in advancing planetary defense capabilities.
The data collected by Hayabusa-2’s mission is expected to contribute to planetary defense, with the collaborative efforts of space agencies worldwide underscoring the shared commitment to safeguarding Earth from potential celestial threats.