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.
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).
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.
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.
The Hayabusa2 snapped this photo of its shadow on Asteroid Ryugu
Asteroid Ryugu was encountered by Japan 170 million miles from Earth
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.