Japan’s Two Hopping Rovers Successfully Land on Asteroid Ryugu

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This spectacular photo shows the view from asteroid Ryugu from the Minerva-II1A rover during a hop after it successfully landed on Sept. 21, 2018. The probe is one of two that landed on Ryugu from the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency's Hayabusa2 spacecraft. It's the first time two mobile rovers landed on an asteroid. Credit: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency

Japan lands two space rovers on asteroid 170 MILLION miles from Earth.

The suspense is over: Two tiny hopping robots have successfully landed on an asteroid called Ryugu — and they’ve even sent back some wild postcards from their new home.

The tiny rovers are part of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Hayabusa2 asteroid sample-return mission.

Engineers with the agency deployed the robots early Friday (Sept. 21), but JAXA waited until today (Sept. 22) to confirm the operation was successful and both rovers made the landing safely.

The rovers are part of the MINERVA-II1 program, and are designed to hop along the asteroid’s surface, taking photographs and gathering data.

In fact, one of the initial images sent home by the hoppers is awfully blurry, since the robot snapped it while still on the go.

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 Sept. 21, 2018.

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 Sept. 21, 2018.

Credit: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency

In order to complete the deployment, the main spacecraft of the Hayabusa2 mission lowered itself carefully down toward the surface until it was just 120 feet (55 meters) up.

After the rovers were on their way, the spacecraft raised itself back up to its typical altitude of about 12.5 miles above the asteroid’s surface (20 kilometers).

The MINERVA-II1B rover captured this view of asteroid Ryugu on Sept. 21, 2018 shortly after separating from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft. The asteroid appears at lower right.

Credit: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency

Prior to touchdown, the Hayabusa2 descended from an orbital height of 12.4 miles (20km) to just 196.85ft (60m) above Ryugu.

The Japanese spacecraft first arrived at the distant space rock earlier in June this year.

Asteroid Ryugu and Japanese Hayabusa2 spacecraft

The small, cylindrical robots are no bigger than a tin of biscuits and measure about seven by 2.8 inches (18cm by 7cm).

They both weigh approximately one kilogram and were designed to snap pictures of the asteroid’s rugged surface.

The rovers, dubbed ROVER-1A and ROVER 1-B, do not have any wheels or threads but rather move around by hopping.

JAXA specifically targeted Asteroid Ryugu for this mission because it is believed to be rich in frozen water, organic compounds and carbon.

Asteroid Ryugu: Hayabusa2 shadow on Ryugu

The Hayabusa2 snapped this photo of its shadow on Asteroid Ryugu (Image: JAXA)

Asteroid Ryugu snapped by Hayabusa2

Asteroid Ryugu was encountered by Japan 170 million miles from Earth (Image: JAXA)

Ryugu is a C-type, diamond shaped asteroid measuring 0.6 miles (1km) in diameter.

Much of the asteroid’s composition is believed not have changed since the earliest days of the solar system, making a valuable space rock to study.

If successful, JAXA’s spacecraft will return to Earth with a sample of the asteroid’s rock.

Japan last attempted to land on an asteroid in 2005 with the Hayabusa first-generation spacecraft but the probe failed to release its rovers on time.

The agency still has two more deployments yet to accomplish before it can rest easy: Hayabusa2 is scheduled to deploy a larger rover called MASCOT in October and another tiny hopper next year.

And of course, the main spacecraft has a host of other tasks to accomplish during its stay at Ryugu — most notably, to collect a sample of the primitive world to bring home to Earth for laboratory analysis.

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