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Hayabusa2 to fly on to another asteroid after current mission

This supplied computer graphic image shows the Hayabusa2 space probe and the Ryugu asteroid. (Image courtesy of JAXA/Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Space probe Hayabusa2 will head on to an asteroid orbiting between Earth and Mars after completing its current mission later this year, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said Tuesday.

The probe will make about a 10-year journey to one of two asteroids being considered as candidates. It will not land on the asteroid but observe it by passing nearby, JAXA said.

The agency will decide by this fall whether the destination is the asteroid "2001AV43" or "1998KY26" -- both measuring tens of meters in diameter and rotating rapidly.

The mission is also collecting data that could help put in place a policy on ways to stop an approaching asteroid from hitting Earth in the future, it said.

Hayabusa2, which was launched on a rocket in December 2014, is now on its way home from the mission of collecting samples from an asteroid.

It will return to the vicinity of Earth on Dec. 6 to drop a capsule containing the samples, JAXA said last week. The capsule is expected to land in southern Australia.

After leaving for the new mission, Hayabusa2 will not return to Earth, JAXA said.

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