Japanese Probe to Return Asteroid Sample to Earth on Sunday

Japanese Probe to Return Asteroid Sample to Earth on Sunday

Japan’s robotic asteroid sample return mission, Hayabusa, will return to Earth around midnight on Sunday, June 13, with a sample of the asteroid Itokawa. The final trajectory maneuver was successfully accomplished yesterday, placing the spacecraft on track for landing at Australia’s Woomera Test Range in the southern part of that country.

The spacecraft, also called Muses-C, was launched seven years ago from Japan’s Uchinoura launch site and has traveled approximately six billion kilometers. It landed on — and took off from — asteroid Itokawa in November 2005 and has been on its return trip ever since. A softball-sized target marker that guided the spacecraft to its landing with the names of 880,000 “little prices and princesses” engraved on it remains on the asteroid.

The mission survived many technical challenges, including the failure of all four of its ion engines. Japanese engineers were able to interconnect working components of different engines to create one that worked.

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