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Asteroid-assaulting spacecraft to take 10-year cruise to a new space rock

Japan's Hayabusa 2 is just getting started after tagging and pickpocketing one small celestial body.

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An illustration of Hayabusa 2

JAXA

Japan's Hayabusa 2 successfully shot the asteroid Ryugu with a specially designed bullet in 2019 before briefly landing on it to scoop up some of the disturbed gravel. The sample will be returned to Earth, with a planned landing in Australia this December. But now the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) is sending the spacecraft on a long voyage to another target. 

After dropping off the sample of Ryugu at Earth, Hayabusa 2 will set a course for another asteroid: 1998 KY26, which is a spherical rock with a diameter a little larger than a tennis court. 

This asteroid's orbit takes it between the orbits of Venus and Mars, meaning it's relatively close to Earth, but Hayabusa 2 will take a somewhat roundabout path to visit it. 

As JAXA announced at a press conference Tuesday, the spacecraft will spend about five years between 2021 and 2026 or 2027 in a sort of long-term cruise control before performing a fly-by of another asteroid, 2001 CC21. It will then make a few swings by Earth in preparation for a mid-2031 arrival at 1998 KY26 where it will check out the fast-rotating micro asteroid and mission planners will weigh the possibility of trying to land on it. 

No word yet on if Hayabusa 2 will try and shoot 1998 KY26 as well, but it seems likely that the spacecraft is all out of ammunition at this point.