Japanese space agency JAXA has successfully test fired its "space cannon" that is designed to launch a projectile into asteroid. The space cannon will eventually be mounted inside the Japanese Hayabusa-2 space probe. That space probe is expected to launch in 2014.
After launch, the Hayabusa-2 space probe will head towards a rendezvous with an asteroid called 1999JU3. That asteroid orbits between the Earth and Mars and the space probe will reach the asteroid in 2018 if all goes well. Once the probe reaches the asteroid, the space cannon will be detached and used to fire a 4-pound metal projectile into the surface of the asteroid.
The goal is to create an artificial crater allowing the space probe to analyze surface samples exposed by the impact. Scientists want to obtain samples from inside the asteroid because they are less weathered by the space environment and heat.
An artificial crater that can be created by the device is expected to be a small one, a few meters in diameter, but ... by acquiring samples from the surface that is exposed by the collision, we can get fresh samples that are less weathered by the space environment or heat.
Once the cannon creates the miniature crater, the main space probe will land close to the crater. It will then send out a small rover that will collect samples that were below the surface previously. JAXA plans for the space probe to return to Earth with samples in late 2020.