Japan's Institute of Space and Astronautical Sciences (ISAS) launched an M-V booster from Kagoshima on 9 May, carrying the Muses-C spacecraft to asteroid 1998SF36, 300 million km (186 million miles) from the Earth.

The craft will reach the 0.5km-long body in 2005, in a first attempt to return samples from such an object. Muses-C will fire a projectile into the asteroid to capture 1g (0.04oz) of fragments to be returned to Earth in 2007.

Launch of the $160 million mission was the fourth by the three-stage solid-propellant M-V, following the failure of the third flight in 2000. Four more launches are planned up to the end of 2005. The Muses-C launch was the last by ISAS, which is to be merged with the Japanese National Space Development Agency in October.

Source: Flight International