The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has sucessfully tested out a cannon designed for shooting at asteroids as part of the Hayabusa 2 space project. The cannon was fired from the Gifu prefecture in Japan during a test run on track for its scheduled launch in 2014.
The project is part of an effort to learn more about a specific C-type asteroid called the 1999JU3 that may contain a high concentration of organic material or the so-called "building blocks of life." In order to collect soil samples from the asteroid, the Hayabusa-2 spacecraft will feature the special metal-bullet crater-blasting cannon that will allow access to the fresher, deeper and untouched layers of rock.
Using one of JAXA's dedicated H2A rockets, Hayabusa 2 is set to be launched into space next year onto a trajectory destined for the 1999JU3. JAXA hopes it will reach the target asteroid around four years later in 2018.
Upon its projected arrival, Hayabusa 2 will then hover above the 1999JU3 to release the special cannon, which will steadily make its way towards the asteroid's surface. As the cannon finds its way towards the asteroid, the separated Hayabusa 2 probe will fly to the other side of the rock to shield itself from the blast. The cannon will then detonate and release a four pound metal shell to create a small crater so that Hayabusa 2 can inspect to gather soil samples to bring back to Earth.
With its precious soil sample in tow, Hayabusa 2 is expected to return around year 2020 to deliver valuable space-created material for analysis and research. The crater-harvested samples will hopefully yield more information about planetary lifeforms than the first Hayabusa mission did after its return from the Itokawa asteroid in 2010, when it brought back weathered surface dust samples that had already been exposed to extreme space weather.