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Japanese probing robot may have failed to land on asteroid
13/11/2005 11:24

A small probing robot released by a Japanese space probe toward an asteroid orbiting the sun between Earth and Mars may have failed to land and has likely drifted away from the asteroid, Yomiuri Shimbun reported Sunday.
The probe, named Hayabusa, released the robot called Minerva toward the asteroid Itokawa at 3:24 p.m. (0624 GMT) Saturday as part of a rehearsal for its own planned descents later this month, the major Japanese daily said.
It was the first attempt by Japan to send equipment to an astronomic object outside Earth. A rehearsal initially held on Nov. 4 before deploying Minerva was aborted due to technical problems.
If there are no problems with Hayabusa, the agency will go ahead with its first touchdown on Itokawa as scheduled for Nov. 19 to collect rock samples in the world's first attempt to gather samples from the surface of an asteroid, the newspaper said.
The can-shaped Minerva -- with a diameter of about 12 centimeters and a height of 10 cm, weighing less than 600 grams and equipped with three small cameras -- was expected to hop around the asteroid and send data, such as surface temperatures and images, back to Earth via Hayabusa.
Hayabusa, launched in May 2003 to travel to Itokawa to collect surface samples, is scheduled to conduct two touchdowns on the asteroid on Nov. 19 and 25 to take rock samples before heading back to Earth. It is to arrive back on Earth in June 2007.
The potato-shaped Itokawa -- 548 meters long, 312 meters wide and 276 meters high -- is now about 290 million kilometers away from Earth, with the sun situated in between them.
The asteroid was discovered in 1998 by scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States. It was named after the late Hideo Itokawa, Japan's pioneer rocket scientist.


 Xinhua news