Japan's Hayabusa probe will have to spend the next three years in space while scientists attempt to revive the ailing asteroid-sampler, Reuters reports. Only in 2010 will it be in the correct position to adopt an orbit for a return to its home planet - assuming the Japanese space agency JAXA can indeed revive Hayabusa.
The possible loss of the probe comes on the back of the disappointing news that it probably did not collect samples of asteroid Itokawa as previously thought. Although Hayabusa landed successfully on the body roughly 186 million miles (300 million km) from Earth, a fuel leak most likely provoked by the touch-down led to a loss of attitude control.
A statement on the JAXA website reads: "Currently communications with the explorer have been cut off, but we think there is a high possibility that we can restore this if we take our time. Consequently, the project team redesigned the orbit to gain more time to save the Hayabusa. Under the latest schedule, the return to earth is scheduled for June 2010." ®