London, June 1 (ANI): Hayabusa, an unmanned Japanese spacecraft designed to return samples from an asteroid, has completed an important step on its journey back to Earth.
According to BBC News, it has achieved the second and largest of four engine firings designed to guide the probe back home.
The probe, which was designed to probe the asteroid Itokawa in 2005, had been plagued by technical glitches affecting the engines and communications with Earth.
Now scientists are looking forward to opening the capsule to find out if it managed to grab any material from the asteroid.
At the weekend, the Japanese Space Agency (Jaxa) announced that Hayabusa had successfully completed its second Trajectory Correction Manoeuvre (TCM), guiding the spacecraft to Earth's "outer rim".
The craft is now roughly 7,600,000km from Earth, scheduled to return on 13 June.
Even if Hayabusa failed to grab large samples at Itokawa, the capsule may still contain some residues from the asteroid, which could be analysed in laboratories.
Hayabusa arrived at Itokawa in September 2005, returning astonishing images of the potato-shaped asteroid's jagged terrain. t however, failed to fire a metal bullet designed to gather the samples.
A fuel leak in 2005 left Hayabusa's chemical propellant tanks empty, so engineers had to use the spacecraft's ion engines to guide the spacecraft home. (ANI)