Japanese probe lands on asteroid - BBC
Last Updated: Saturday, 26 November 2005, 02:37 GMT
Japan's Hayabusa space probe has made a successful landing on an asteroid, the Japanese space agency says.
But it is as yet unclear whether the spacecraft has collected samples from the surface of the asteroid Itokawa.
The spacecraft was on a mission to collect samples and return them to Earth in the summer of 2007.
It is Hayabusa's second attempt at landing on the asteroid after its initial mission failed to collect surface material.
Officials at Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (Jaxa) confirmed the probe had touched down on Itokawa last Sunday despite an initial announcement of failure.
But controllers lost contact with the probe for about three hours after it had manoeuvred to within several metres of the space rock. The craft had also apparently failed to drop equipment to collect samples.
The data shows Hayabusa bounced off the asteroid's jagged surface more than once, but was not damaged and spent about 39 minutes resting on it.
The probe is designed to fire a metal pellet into the surface. After the firings, Hayabusa is supposed to take off to collect the dust ejected by the impact.
Hayabusa was launched in May 2003 and has until early December before it must leave orbit and begin its 290m km (180 million-mile) journey home. It is expected to return to Earth and land in the Australian outback in June 2007.
Examining asteroid samples is expected to help unlock secrets of how celestial bodies were formed because their surfaces are believed to have remained relatively unchanged over the ages, unlike those of larger bodies such the planets or moons.
Itokawa is 690m (2,300 ft) long and 300m (1,000 ft) wide and has a gravitational pull only 1/100,000th that of Earth's. The asteroid is located at a distance of 290m km (180 million miles) from our planet.