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Japan and NASA to Explore Collaboration on Asteroid Sample Return

Press Release From: University of Arizona
Posted: Thursday, January 2, 2014

Following an invitation of University of Arizona President Ann Weaver Hart, Saku Tsuneta, director general of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS), will visit the UA on Oct. 3 to explore opportunities for collaboration on asteroid sample return missions led by Japan and the U.S. 

JAXA is in the final preparations of launching Hayabusa2, a robotic spacecraft, to bring a sample from asteroid 1999JU3 back to Earth in 2020. The UA is leading NASA's OSIRIS-REx mission, slated for launch in 2016 and returning a sample from asteroid Bennu to Earth in 2023. The missions target different asteroids, both of which were discovered in the same year, 1999. 

During the visit, key members of the OSIRIS-REx team will interact with the JAXA delegation to discuss how the two missions might best learn from each other and discuss the potential coordination of an exchange of some of the returned sample material for study. 

"During operations of OSIRIS-REx we intend to host Japanese scientists, and we expect to be able to send team members to JAXA to collaborate on their mission," said Dante Lauretta, principal investigator of the OSIRIS-REx mission and professor in the UA Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. "It's a great opportunity because operations for both missions will go on simultaneously."

In addition, NASA and JAXA plan to exchange fractions of the samples collected by the two spacecraft.

JAXA's Hayabusa2 is the successor of the Hayabusa mission, the first asteroid sample return mission ever undertaken. Hayabusa touched down on asteroid Itokawa in late 2005, captured sample particles and returned them to Earth in 2010.

By capitalizing on the experience of the first Hayabusa mission, Hayabusa2 aims at acquiring samples and bringing them back from a different type of asteroid called a carbonaceous chondrite, a similar type of asteroid that is the target of the OSIRIS-REx mission. The rock of such carbonaceous asteroids is thought to contain organic matter and water and hold especially valuable clues to the formation of the solar system and the origin of life-seeding molecules on Earth. 

"The world's first sample return mission to an asteroid was an enormous success, and we are looking forward to learning from JAXA's experience with Hayabusa and Hayabusa2 once it gets to 1999JU3, and we are excited to share what we learn with OSIRIS-REx at Bennu," Lauretta said. "Both NASA and JAXA share a keen interest in opportunities for future scientific collaboration."

The details of NASA support for Hayabusa2, as well as the exchange of samples and information from Hayabusa2 and OSIRIS-REx, are still being negotiated in an agreement between the two agencies.

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