Hayabusa capsule returns to lab after epic space trip

A space capsule thought to contain asteroid dust ended a multi-bn-km journey into deep space.

Updated: Jun 18, 2010, 12:50 PM IST

Tokyo: A Japanese space capsule thought to contain asteroid dust ended a multi-billion-kilometre (mile) journey into deep space and back when it arrived Friday at a research centre outside Tokyo.
The Hayabusa capsule -- which parachuted into the Australian Outback Sunday after a seven-year space odyssey -- arrived at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency`s Sagamihara Campus in Kanagawa, west of Tokyo, JAXA said.

"It has been seven years since I saw the capsule the last time. It looks like new," said the project leader, JAXA professor Junichiro Kawaguchi.

"It was really good that the lid, sealed in 2007, remained shut" after its encounter with the asteroid, he said in a statement.

"It is like a time capsule," Kawaguchi said, adding that he was "deeply moved" by the probe`s epic space journey.

Scientists hope any dust samples from the ancient asteroid in the capsule could help reveal secrets about the origins of the solar system.

They will however have to wait several weeks as the probe will remain sealed as it undergoes a battery of tests.

The heat-proof pod was fired back to Earth by the Hayabusa probe, which burned up on re-entry, on Sunday, after a five billion kilometre (three billion mile) journey.

Technical problems plagued Hayabusa, which at one stage spun out of control and lost contact with JAXA for seven weeks, delaying the mission for three years until the asteroid and Earth re-aligned.

When it finally latched onto the potato-shaped Itokawa asteroid, a pellet-firing system designed to stir up dust malfunctioned, leaving it unclear how much material the probe was able to gather.

Scientists expect to recover at least some asteroid dust from the world-first mission, which has generated great excitement in Japan with one sake rice wine maker producing a special Hayabusa brew to mark the occasion.

Bureau Report