This is when things started to go even worse for the solar flare-battered probe. There was an attempt to get a closer look at the asteroid, but in doing so, the spacecraft overheated and switched into "safe mode" when accidentally making contact with the sun-baked side of Itokawa.
After regaining control, JAXA scientists made an attempt to grab samples of the asteroid to bring back to Earth. Unfortunately, that didn't go smoothly either. The sampling device intended to kick pieces of asteroid from the surface into a collector didn't work as it was supposed to. However, there is hope that some disturbed particles of asteroid dust made it on board during these maneuvers.
After a delayed limp back to Earth (the mission was supposed to return in 2007), Hayabusa is finally on its final straight, aimed right at the Australian outback.
Shortly before Sunday's re-entry, the return capsule - hopefully containing the invaluable particles of asteroid dust - will separate from the main spacecraft, leaving the majority of the probe to burn up high in the atmosphere.
The capsule is designed to withstand temperatures of up to 3,000 degrees Celsius. After falling through the atmosphere, the return capsule should deploy its parachute at an altitude of 10 km (6.2 miles).
All going well, by Sunday night, the JAXA scientists commanding Hayabusa will be able to (finally) breathe easy when they know their precious cargo made it back to Earth in one piece.
Despite the unfortunate circumstances of this pioneering mission to land on an asteroid, perhaps we'll get a fairytale ending when it is announced that Hayabusa did capture a small piece of Itokawa.
Image (top): Artist impression of Hayabusa floating above the asteroid (JAXA). Image (bottom): Photograph by Hayabusa of Itokawa (JAXA).
Sources: The Planetary Society, BBC