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Hayabusa probe may be lost

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The Japanese space agency JAXA has admitted that its Hayabusa probe may not be able to return to Earth because of thruster problems, Reuters reports. The bad news comes just a couple of days after triumphant scientists declared that Hayabusa had most likely succeeded in getting surface samples from asteroid Itokawa.

JAXA lost contact with the probe yesterday, and when it was reestablished, the Hayabusa team found the vehicle was "suffering a fuel leak from one of its two sets of chemical thrusters and a problem with the other set, which was possibly frozen".

Project leader Junichiro Kawaguchi admitted to a press conference in Tokyo: "If we cannot revive the thrusters, of course a return journey is impossible." JAXA is not certain, furthermore, that there is sufficient fuel left for the return leg, even if the thrusters can be persuaded to function. ®

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