Hayabusa2 Probe Approaches Earth For Swingby On Way To Asteroid

Hayabusa2 probe approaches Earth for swingby on way to asteroidJapan's Hayabusa2 space probe, currently in the midst of a six-year mission, made its closest approach to the Earth on Thursday to perform a swingby to set it on course for its target asteroid 300 million kilometers away, the space agency said.

The probe, which has traveled on an orbit similar to the Earth's around the sun, approached a point about 3,100 km from Earth at 7:08 p.m. before changing its direction and picking up speed by using the planet's gravity -- a method used for spacecraft to save fuel in order to complete long missions.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency probe was launched in December 2014 for a mission to collect rock samples from the 900-meter wide asteroid that was later named Ryugu. The probe is expected to reach the asteroid in 2018 and return to Earth in late 2020.