October 24, 2013
Japanese scientists have successfully tested a space cannon that will be used to blast a hole in an asteroid as part of an upcoming mission. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) will use the weapon to gather extensive data about the composition of asteroid 1999JU3 that could not be obtained by simply scanning the undisturbed surface. This successful test sets up a launch for next year.
The space cannon is to be mounted on the Hayabusa-2 vehicle, which will carry it to the asteroid, which orbits between Earth and Mars. This is essentially a kinetic impact weapon that relies on an explosive charge to launch a 4lb slug into the surface. The spacecraft will release the weapon, allowing it to float downward while it takes cover on the opposite side of 1999JU3.
The detonation will be triggered remotely before Hayabusa-2 circles back to the impacted side of the body. After the damage is done, the probe will land and scoop up debris from the impact to bring back to Earth.