Thursday, 13 December, 2018

Japan's hopping space rovers land on asteroid

Taken immediately after separation from the spacecraft this shows Hayabusa2 is at the top and the surface of Ryugu is bottom Image The surface of Ryugu is in the lower right. The coloured blur in the top left is due to the reflection of sunlight
Doris Mccormick | 25 September, 2018, 10:23

The Japanese space agency, JAXA, made history on September 21 by landing two rovers on a 1km asteroid.

While just the first two rovers have been deployed to the space rock's surface, the Hayabusa-2 orbiter still has a pair of rovers on board that it will deploy at a later date.

The robots are created to hop around the asteroid's surface to collect photos, samples, and data from its surface, as Ryugu's gravity is too weak for rolling to work.

The two landers are meant to study the composition of Ryugu, a primitive carbonaceous near-Earth asteroid, with the ultimate objective of gathering more information about the development of the inner planets of the solar system.

The two robots will capture colour images of the asteroid and measure temperatures before the agency sends a larger rover in October. In the bottom left corner of the image, you can see the surface of the Ryugu asteroid.

"The image taken by MINERVA-II1 during a hop allowed me to relax as a dream of many years came true".

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What will the rovers do on the asteroid surface?

"I felt awed by what we had achieved in Japan. This is just a real charm of deep space exploration", said Takashi Kubota, a spokesman for the space agency.

Next month Hayabusa2 will deploy an impactor which will explode above the asteroid, to blast a crater into its surface.

From this crater, the probe will collect "fresh" materials unexposed to millennia of wind and radiation, hoping for answers to some fundamental questions about life and the universe, including whether elements from space helped give rise to life on Earth. Then, the rovers have to collect samples, and board the shuttle again, returning to Earth for lab analysis.

So far, the asteroid's surface was rougher than expected, which brought another layer of difficulty to the mission. MINERVA-II1 is, therefore "the world's first man-made object to explore movement on an asteroid surface".

Beneath their surfaces, asteroids are known to contain important information about the formation of the solar system billions of years ago.

The Hayabusa2 spacecraft approached the 1-kilometer (3,280-feet) wide space rock around Thursday afternoon at the orbiting altitude of about 20 kilometers (12.4 miles).

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