Japanese Panel To OK Hayabusa-2 Development

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Japan’s Space Activities Commission (SAC) is poised to formally recommend in mid-August development of a follow-on to the Hayabusa asteroid sample-return mission that reached Earth in June.

A key SAC evaluation committee approved the technical plan and mission goals for Hayabusa-2 in a report published Aug. 5. The 33-page report recommends launching the follow-on craft before the end of March 2015 to visit, land on, deploy a miniature rover and collect and return a sample of a C-class asteroid, which is believed to contain materials that can give clues to the formation of the solar system.

The report’s findings mean that SAC, which has oversight of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), will formally recommend development of the new probe when it meets Aug. 11 to review JAXA’s space programs, according to Hiroko Takuma, deputy director of the space and aeronautics policy division at the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.

The budget for Hayabusa-2 is projected to be about 16.4 billion yen ($190 million), excluding the cost of the H-2A rocket that will launch the probe, Takuma said in an Aug. 5 interview.

Japan’s annual space budget request is due to be submitted to the Finance Ministry at the end of August and ratified by Japan’s Diet the following March. Japan’s new fiscal year begins April 1.

The first Hayabusa, launched in May 2003 on a longer-than-expected round-trip journey, visited and collected dust particles from the near-Earth object 25143.

In a separate report also released Aug. 5, the same SAC technical subcommittee recommended development of the next-generation Epsilon solid-rocket that will be the successor to the M-V. The 24-meter-tall Epsilon, which is being designed by JAXA, is based on the SRB-A solid-augmentation booster used on the H-2A, and will be capable of lifting 1,200 kilograms into low Earth orbit at a target cost of 3.8 billion yen per launch, about half the cost of the M-V, according to the subcommittee report.

Following the draft report, SAC will also approve development of the Epsilon rocket Aug. 11, Takuma said.