Third time lucky for Hayabusa

A spacecraft is preparing to fly home after the first ever soft landing on an asteroid.
The unmanned Japanese probe Hayabusa touched down today on a 600-yard long space rock called Itokawa.
It blasted a metal pellet into the asteroid’s surface so it could collect dust and rubble ejected.
Scientists at mission control confirmed last night that the probe had taken off again from the asteroid.
Now £100million Hayabusa will return to Earth and parachute the samples collected to a landing in the Australian Outback in June 2007.
Yesterday’s landing was third-time lucky for Hayabusa – it means Falcon – which has been flying alongside the asteroid for weeks after a 620million mile journey.
Two weeks ago it sent a tea-caddy sized robot called Minerva to hop around on the asteroid – but it is thought to have gone into orbit instead.
Apart from a 3D camera, it was also carrying the names of 100 people in Liverpool, collected by city asteroid expert Dr Benny Peiser, among a million gathered worldwide.
Then Hayabusa failed in a previous attempt to touch down on sausage-shaped Itokawa after problems with its flight controls.
Space scientists want to learn more about what asteroids are made of to help them prepare for those that threaten to collide with the Earth.
One the size of Itokawa could destroy a city the size of London or create a devastating tidal wave.
Nasa’s Deep Impact probe fired a smart bomb the size of a fridge to blast a crater in a comet called Tempel 1 in July.

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By Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland has been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. He writes regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy, plus he has authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

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