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Archive for Monday, November 14, 2005

Space agency loses contact with probe

November 14, 2005

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— Japan's space agency has lost contact with a wayward probe that botched an attempted rehearsal landing in a mission to collect surface samples from an asteroid and return to Earth, an official said Monday.

The coffee can-sized Minerva robotic lander has been drifting above the asteroid since Saturday, when it was deployed from the mother probe Hayabusa, which is scheduled to attempt its own landings later this month.

Mission controllers can no longer contact Minerva nor control its movements, and are hoping the solar wind will guide the probe back to the potato-shaped asteroid Itokawa for a possible landing, space agency spokesman Kiyotaka Yashiro said.

The loss is the latest glitch in Japan's attempt to complete the world's first two-way trip to an asteroid. A similar rehearsal touch down was aborted earlier this month when the spacecraft had trouble finding a landing spot.

JAXA, Japan's space agency, said the main probe was still on track for its own landings to collect surface material from Itokawa on Nov. 19 and Nov. 25.

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