November 13, 2005

Japanese robot lost in space mission

TOKYO (Reuters) - A miniature robot released by a Japanese
space probe to a small asteroid circling the Sun was lost
before it was able to land on the asteroid's surface, the Japan
Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) reported on Sunday.

Minerva, a 10 cm (3.9 inch) long can-shaped "baby" robot,
had been designed to gather information on the Itokawa asteroid
as part of a rehearsal ahead of the unmanned Hayabusa probe's
own landing on the asteroid Itokawa scheduled for Nov 19.

Minerva's landing was to have been the first attempt by
Japan to send information-gathering equipment to an astronomic
object outside the Earth.

Equipped with a camera and thermometers, Minerva was meant
to hop around Itokawa and send data such as surface
temperatures and images back to Earth via Hayabusa, the Kyodo
news agency reported.

A previous attempt to land Minerva earlier this month was
aborted due to technical problems.

Itokawa, a 600 meter (1,970 feet)-long asteroid that
travels on an orbit that takes it between earth and Mars, is
named after Hideo Itokawa, the father of Japan's space
exploration program. It is currently around 290 million km (180
million miles) away from the Earth.

Junichiro Kawaguchi, a professor at JAXA, said scientists
had miscalculated the best moment to release Minerva, a task
made difficult by Hayabusa's changing altitude over the

"It is very disappointing that it did not work out nicely.
We found out various things about the asteroid, so we will
study the data and hope it will lead to the successful landing
of Hayabusa," Kyodo quoted him as saying.

Hayabusa, which was fired into space on May 9, 2003, has
been hovering over Itokawa for almost two months.

The space craft is designed to swoop down on the asteroid
on two separate occasions and gather samples before returning
to Earth.

Scientists hope that by studying samples of the asteroid's
surface they will be able learn more about the origins of the