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Last Updated: Friday, 16 December 2005, 08:19 GMT
Long delay for asteroid mission
Hayabusa captures its shadow on the surface of Itokawa, Jaxa
The probe captured its shadow on the surface of the asteroid
A probe sent to visit an asteroid will remain in space until 2010, according to Japanese space officials.

Controllers have lost contact with the troubled craft and are unable to command it to begin the journey home.

The Hayabusa probe should have left asteroid Itokawa this month carrying dust samples for return in 2007.

But the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (Jaxa) announced last week that a landmark attempt to collect rock material had probably failed.

In the latest setback, it said it would take about a year to restore Hayabusa's faulty control system, forcing its return to be postponed.

The dynamics of the Solar System mean that travelling back to Earth from the asteroid will not be practical again for three years.

Hayabusa is currently stationed at Itokawa about 290 million km (180 million miles) from Earth.

The asteroid is named after Hideo Itokawa, a father of Japan's space programme

Controllers have lost radio contact with their quarry and are unable to control its direction. The problems are believed to stem from a fuel leak in some of Hayabusa's 12 engines, which have all since stopped working.

"This is disappointing, but we'll spend the coming year [trying] to rescue the craft and retrieve it in June 2010, if we can control it again by the beginning of 2007," project manager Junichiro Kawaguchi said at a press conference.

"There is a good possibility that the craft can be controlled again," he added.

The original plan was for Hayabusa to approach Earth and drop a capsule containing samples of asteroid dust into the Australian outback in June 2007.

But although Hayabusa apparently landed on the asteroid twice, it failed to fire a metal bullet designed to gather rock samples.

Team members are clinging to the hope that Hayabusa could have disturbed enough dust for some to have found its way into the sample collection chamber by chance.

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14 Nov 05 |  Science/Nature
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04 Nov 05 |  Science/Nature
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26 Jul 04 |  Science/Nature

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