Hobbled Satellite Resumes Trek Home from Asteroid

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Japan’s Hayabusa asteroid probe should still be able to make it back to Earth around June 2010 despite a problem with the probe’s ion propulsion system, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said in a Nov. 19 press release.

One of Hayabusa’s two remaining ion engines shut down Nov. 4 after reporting an anomaly. Hayabusa engineers have since reconfigured the probe’s propulsion system to combine the neutralizer of one engine with the ion source of another engine.

“While the operation still needs [to be] monitored carefully, the project team has concluded the spacecraft can maintain the current return cruise schedule back to the earth around June of 2010” assuming the new engine configuration continues to work as planned, JAXA said in the release.

Launched in 2003, Hayabusa reached the small near Earth asteroid 25143 Itokawa in late 2005 but was unable to land as planned. However, project officials are hopeful that some dust swirled into Hayabusa’s sample chamber during the landing attempt.