Japan asteroid probe to lift off Monday after delay

Japan asteroid probe to lift off Monday after delay

TOKYO - Japan on Monday will launch a space probe on a six-year mission to mine a distant asteroid after the event was postponed due to bad weather, officials said.

Hayabusa2 is now scheduled to blast off aboard Japan's main H-IIA rocket from Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan at 1:22 pm (0422 GMT), the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said Saturday.

The agency had originally planned to launch the rocket on Sunday only weeks after a European spacecraft's historic landing on a comet captivated the world's attention.

But a forecast of thick cloud over the weekend forced the agency to delay the launch.

The 31 billion yen ($260 million) project is sending a probe towards the unpoetically-named 1999 JU3 asteroid in deep space.

It will blast a crater in the asteroid to collect virgin materials unexposed to millennia of solar wind and radiation, in the hope of answering some fundamental questions about life and the universe.

Hayabusa2, about the size of a domestic refrigerator, is expected to reach the asteroid in mid-2018 and will spend around 18 months studying the surface.

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