The first mission to return a sample of material from the surface of a near-Earth object, the Japanese Hayabusa spacecraft, which also carried a mini-lander named MINERVA, was originally designed as a technology demonstration mission. One of the technologies it tested was an efficient ion propulsion system, which it used successfully during its two-year journey to asteroid Itokawa.
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory assisted the Hayabusa mission by running some of the spacecraft-to-ground communications through its Deep Space Network of antennas, as well as providing the mission with navigators who worked with the Japanese navigation team to guide Hayabusa on the final leg of its journey home.
November 25, 2005: The Hayabusa spacecraft touches down on the surface of asteroid Itokawa, marking only the second time in history that a spacecraft has descended to the surface of an asteroid.
January 2007: The Hayabusa spacecraft departs asteroid Itokawa and begins its return trip to Earth 3 months later.
June 13, 2010: The Hayabusa spacecraft releases its 40-centimeter-wide capsule before harmlessly burning up - as planned - in Earth's atmosphere. The capsule parachutes down to the Woomera Protected Area, the world's largest test range, in South Australia, where ground teams recover it the following day.
- Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR)
- Near Infrared Spectrometer (NIRS)
- X-Ray Flourescence Spectrometer (XRS)
- Wide-view Camera (ONC-W)
- Telescopic Camera (AMICA)
- Target marker
- Sampler and reentry capsule
- Small rover MINERVA