Sunday, November 27, 2005

Probing Space

Mars-Bound NASA Craft Tweaks Course, Passes Halfway Point: NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter successfully fired six engines for about 20 seconds earlier this month to adjust its flight path in advance of its March 10, 2006, arrival at the red planet.Since its Aug. 12 launch, the multipurpose spacecraft has covered about 60 percent of the distance for its trip from Earth to Mars. It will fly about 40-million kilometers (25-million miles) farther before it enters orbit around Mars. It will spend half a year gradually adjusting the shape of its orbit, then begin its science phase. During that phase, it will return more data about Mars than all previous missions combined. The spacecraft has already set a record transmission rate for an interplanetary mission, successfully returning data at 6 megabits per second, fast enough to fill a CD-ROM every 16 minutes.

Hayabusa probe prepares for touchdown two: Japan's Hayabusa spacecraft will make another attempt to touch down on asteroid Itokawa on Friday, in a bid to collect the first ever samples of such an object. The Hayabusa probe, which successfully touched down on the asteroid last Sunday but failed to collect material as planned, is set to try again at 2200 GMT on Friday, according to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). The unmanned craft will descend to Itokawa at a speed of several centimetres per second. Although it has already managed to land once, Japan's space agency says this is no easy feat. "It's like being forced to land a troubled jumbo jet in a valley of the Grand Canyon," said project team member Yasunori Matogawa.

Spacecraft snatches first samples from asteroid: The Hayabusa spaceprobe has snatched samples from the asteroid Itokawa, according to JAXA, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. The six-metre probe touched down at 0707 Japanese time (2207 GMT Friday) and its computer system shot a metal ball into the asteroid to drive up material for collection. The operation went "without failure," said JAXA official Yasunori Matoba, and the craft then took off again. The Hayabusa team will not know for sure whether it picked up surface material until the craft returns to Earth in 2007, after a two billion kilometres journey, but they are confident it worked.


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