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Asteroid probe due to land Sunday in South Australia.

Posted by 3citynewswire on 06/10/2010

Artist's rendering of Hayabusa probe

Hayabusa — the Japanese probe launched seven years ago to try to capture the first samples from an asteroid — is on its way home and is due to land Sunday in South Australia.

Touchdown for the craft’s capsule is set for 10 a.m. ET Sunday  in a remote part of the Australian outback. The final trajectory correction took place Tuesday. So it’s not at all clear if the returning capsule will contain any asteroid dust in its collection canister. Scientists say the dust could help them gain new understanding of how the solar system formed.

“This is the second highest velocity re-entry of a capsule in history,” said Peter Jenniskens, a scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Centre. “Such man-made objects entering with interplanetary speed do not happen every day, and we hope to get a ringside seat to this one.”

The 40-centimetre-wide containment capsule will separate from the main spacecraft well above the Earth’s atmosphere. It will eventually deploy a parachute to help slow its landing. The capsule also has a radio beacon.

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