Published: Mon, September 24, 2018
Research | By Raquel Erickson

Japan’s two hopping rovers successfully land on asteroid Ryugu

Japan’s two hopping rovers successfully land on asteroid Ryugu

A pair of Minerva-II rovers are dropped on the egg-shaped Ryugu asteroid in this handout computer-generated image released by JAXA via Jiji Press on Sept 21.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's Minerva-II1 rover captured this view of asteroid Ryugu (bottom) and the Hayabusa2 spacecraft (at top right) just after the rover separated from the spacecraft on September 21, 2018.

"The two rovers are in good condition and are transmitting images and data", it said in a statement.

Taking advantage of the asteroid's low gravity, they will jump around on the surface - soaring as high as 15 meters (49 feet) and staying aloft for as long as 15 minutes - to survey its physical features with cameras and sensors.

The round, cookie tin-shaped robots successfully reached the Ryugu asteroid a day after they were released from the Hayabusa2 probe, the agency said.

Japan's space agency said on Saturday the rovers had landed.

While the first images were less than awe-inspiring, successive shots show a craggy, pitted surface fit for a Hollywood blockbuster.

"I am so proud that we have established a new method of space exploration for small celestial bodies", said JAXA's project manager, Yuichi Tsuda.

The rovers are the first to land successfully on an asteroid's surface.

They will also measure the surface temperature ahead of Hayabusa2's own landing late next month.

If everything goes according to the plan, Hayabusa 2 will also deploy the Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout (MASCOT) lander developed by German Aerospace Center (DLR) on October 3, 2018 and Rover-2 in 2019, which is similar in size and design to the duo of rovers already on the surface. The asteroid is named Ryugu, CNN reported.

The Hayabusa2 mission was launched in December 2014 and will return to Earth with its samples in 2020.

Tomasz Nowakowski is the owner of Astro Watch, one of the premier astronomy and science-related blogs on the internet.

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