Photo/Illutration An artist’s rendering of the Hayabusa 2 space probe traveling in space (Provided by the German Aerospace Center)

Japan’s Hayabusa 2 space probe will continue its long and remarkable journey to another heavenly body after it delivers asteroid samples to Earth later this year, education minister Koichi Hagiuda said.

The 1998KY26 asteroid, in orbit between Earth and Mars, has been picked as the next destination for the Hayabusa 2, with a landing expected in July 2031, Hagiuda said at a news conference following a Cabinet meeting on Sept. 15.

He said the next leg of the probe’s journey will start after it moves above Australia, where it will release a capsule believed to contain rock and sand samples from the Ryugu asteroid.

The 1998KY26 asteroid, which measures about 30 meters in size, is thought to be rotating at high speed. The Hayabusa 2 project team is considering conducting a comparative study of the asteroid and Ryugu since 1998KY26 is also likely to have rich natural resources, such as water and carbon.

The team also plans to have the Hayabusa 2 travel near another asteroid and change the orbit of the probe using the Earth’s gravity before it arrives at 1998KY26.

The new destination was chosen after the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency narrowed down a list of about 350 candidate destinations where the probe can reach with its remaining fuel to two.

“It’s like an athlete who scored two tries at a Rugby World Cup game attempting to compete in the Olympics 10 years after switching over to figure skating,” Seiichiro Watanabe, a scientist in the Hayabusa 2 probe project and professor of planetary science at Nagoya University, said of the new plan.

“We had never expected that the Hayabusa 2 would carry out another mission by using its remaining power, but it’s a scientifically meaningful and fascinating plan.”