A Japanese spacecraft, which may be the first to gather samples from an asteroid, is scheduled to return to earth this weekend after a seven-year journey.
Hayabusa, Japanese for “falcon,” is set to land at 11:30 p.m. Tokyo time on June 13 in the Woomera area of Australia, said Tamihiro Yagioka, a Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency spokesman.
The craft landed on the potato-shaped asteroid Itokawa in November 2005. It’s not clear whether the spacecraft, which had mechanical problems including fuel leaks and engine failures, succeeded in its mission to collect samples.
Analyzing dust from the 540-meter long asteroid may help scientists learn more about the origin and development of the solar system, Yagioka said. The spacecraft has covered more than 6 billion kilometers (3.7 billion miles) since its launch in May 2003 under the 21 billion yen ($229 million) program.
The Japanese space agency is considering launching Hayabusa II in 2014. Japan should aim to double the size of its space industry to 15 trillion yen by 2020, a government agency said in a report released on May 25.