Update (Dec. 3, 2014 at 04:30 UTC): LIFTOFF! The launch went very well, and Hayabusa2 is, as I write this, on its way. It’s in orbit, coasting for a little over an hour to get into position to reignite its second stage engine and head off to the asteroid 1999 JU3. I’ll post another update when I hear more.
Update 2 (Dec. 3, 2014 at 14:00 UTC): Success! After its orbital cruise phase, the second stage reignited, setting Hayabusa2 on the path toward an asteroid rendezvous in 2018. Congratulations to everyone at JAXA and to asteroid scientists everywhere. Next update: 2015, for the Earth flyby.
The Japanese space agency JAXA is scheduled to launch a very important mission tonight: The Hayabusa 2 space probe, set to visit the asteroid 1999 JU3. This is a very ambitious mission: It will land on the asteroid, collect samples, deploy three small rovers, and then send the samples back to Earth for study.
JAXA will have a live webcast for the launch. (It also has channels on YouTube and Ustream.) I don’t know if other space agencies will carry it, but just in case here are the links for the ESA live feed and NASA’s Ustream channel. If I find out more, I’ll update this post.
Now if you want to watch, pay attention here: The launch is scheduled for 04:22 UTC on Dec. 3, which is 23:22 Eastern U.S. time tonight, Dec. 2. Living on a round planet can be confusing. Remember, launches are frequently delayed (this one already has been from an earlier scheduled date), so check the JAXA news page for updated information.
If you miss the launch, don’t worry overmuch. The asteroid rendezvous isn’t until June 2018 (with an Earth flyby to gain velocity in 2015), so there’s plenty of time to learn about this mission. If it goes as planned, it’ll be amazing.