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Asteroid encounter postponed


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The planned touchdown of a Japanese space probe on a distant asteroid has been cancelled at the last minute. The spacecraft was within a few hundred metres of the giant space rock when the operation was called off.

The website of the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (Jaxa) said the descent was cancelled when it received an "anomalous signal" from the craft.

It is not clear whether a future landing attempt will be made.

The Hayabusa spacecraft was due to land a robot on the surface of asteroid Itokawa on Friday and prepare for two attempts this month to gather samples of space dust. It was launched in May 2003 on a mission to find out more about the raw materials that made up the early Solar System.


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