- uploaded: Jun 14, 2010
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Japan's Hayabusa capsule lit up the night sky as it re-entered the atmosphere bang on target after a TWO BILLION mile journey.
The probe, which had been travelling at seven and a half miles a second, landed in Australia at 2.51pm UK time yesterday.
Space boffins launched Hayabusa in 2003 in the hope of collecting asteroid fragments from the Itakawa space rock.
If successfully recovered the rock samples could be the first ever collected from an asteroid.
The fragments are important because they are debris from the dawn of the solar system. And knowing what Itakawa is made of will help scientists tackle asteroids that threaten to hit the Earth.
Teams from NASA and the Japanese space agency JAXA cheered and toasted with champagne after signals were received from a transmitter beacon attached to the heatproof capsule.
Helicopters were due to be sent in daylight to retrieve the probe from the Woomera restricted military area in the remote Australian outback.
Hayabusa â€” meaning Falcon â€” was launched in May 2003 and reached Itakawa in September 2005.
It twice brushed the surface of 540m long Itakawa â€” the first ever landings on an asteroid â€” and took a sample from its rubble.