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Space probe lost, then found

Associated Press
Published November 24, 2005

TOKYO - Japan's space agency said Wednesday its spacecraft had successfully touched down on an asteroid 180-million miles from Earth despite an earlier announcement that it had failed.

On Sunday, JAXA officials had said the Hayabusa probe, on a mission to land on the asteroid named Itokawa, collect material, then bring it back to Earth, failed to touch down after maneuvering within yards of the surface.

However, the agency said Wednesday that data confirmed that Hayabusa had landed on the surface Sunday for a half-hour, although it failed to collect material.

JAXA officials had said earlier that Hayabusa dropped a small object as a touchdown target from 130 feet above the asteroid and then descended to 56 feet from the surface, at which point ground control lost contact with the probe for about three hours.

But after analyzing data, the agency said the probe landed on the asteroid within about 99 feet of the initial landing target.

The agency officials were still analyzing the data and will decide by today whether to conduct a second landing attempt Friday, according to Seiji Koyama, a spokesman for the space agency.

A landing rehearsal earlier this month was aborted when the probe had trouble finding a site, and a small robotic lander that deployed from the probe was lost. Hayabusa also suffered a problem with one of its three gyroscopes, but it has since been repaired.

[Last modified November 24, 2005, 00:19:08]

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