A Japanese spacecraft which failed on its landmark mission to collect asteroid samples suffered a new setback with its return to Earth delayed by three years until 2010.
The Hayabusa spacecraft, which last month approached the asteroid 290 million kilometers (180 million miles) from Earth, has been out of control since Friday because of a gas burst caused by leaking fuel.
The six-meter (20-foot) unmanned spacecraft was set to depart in mid-December, when the distance between Earth and the asteroid is ideal, and drop a capsule in the Australian outback in June 2007.
But the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said it now expected the spacecraft back in June 2010 as it will be another three years before the travelling distance is practical.
"This is disappointing, but we'll spend the coming year to rescue the craft and retrieve it in June 2010 if we can control it again by the beginning of 2007," project manager Junichiro Kawaguchi said at a press conference.
"There is a good possibility that the craft can be controlled again," he added.
But he doubted the space program would try again to take samples from an asteroid after the 12.7 billion yen (100 million dollar) Itokawa mission.
"There are many projects lining up after this," Nagasu said.
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Looks like Japan is not going to be the asteroid miners in the near term at least.