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Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa to land in Australia

Japan's Hayabusa spacecraft . A file photo

SYDNEY (KYODO): After over seven years in orbit, Japan's Hayabusa spacecraft is set to touch down in the Australian outback in June, potentially bringing with it the world's first sample of an asteroid, the Australian government has announced.

"This has been an historic mission. It is the first time a spacecraft has made contact with an asteroid and returned to Earth," Defense Minister John Faulkner said in a statement Wednesday.

The probe, launched by the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) in 2003 with the task of collecting samples from the asteroid Itokawa, will land in the Woomera Prohibited Area, in southwestern Australia.

JAXA hopes the samples will reveal which celestial body Itokawa is related to, how the asteroid was formed and also help determine the effects of solar wind and cosmic radiation in the solar system.

The explorer made contact with Itokawa in 2005; however scientists remain unsure whether the spacecraft was successful in collecting rocks from the asteroid's surface.

Originally due to land in 2007, the spacecraft was delayed due to technical difficulties with the explorer's thruster system.

Once the Hayabusa sample return capsule is released into the Earth's atmosphere in June, Australian experts will initially assist with the search and recovery efforts before transporting the capsule to Japan for analysis.

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