Published: Mon, September 24, 2018
Science | By

Two Japanese space robots land on asteroid 200 million miles away

Two Japanese space robots land on asteroid 200 million miles away

Known as MINERVA-II1, the rovers are collectively world's first mobile exploration robot to land on the surface of an asteroid.

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. While they contain scientific instruments including cameras, thermometers, and accelerometers, one goal of the rovers (which use torque generated by rotating internal components instead of wheels) is simply to act as a proof of concept for low-gravity environmental exploration.

Yuichi Tsuda, Hayabusa2 project manager said: "I can not find words to express how happy I am that we were able to realise mobile exploration on the surface of an asteroid".

The Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) has successfully landed two rovers on an asteroid and the robots have sent the first set of photographs giving us a glimpse into what the asteroidal surface is like.

"Each of the rovers is operating normally and has started surveying Ryugu's surface", JAXA said in a statement.

The Hayabusa2 began its approach to Ryugu from an orbiting altitude of around 20 km on Thursday afternoon.

Part of Hayabusa2's payload is four rovers: three Minerva-II rovers, and a Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout (MASCOT) rover.

Hayabusa2 will also deploy yet another another small rover (this time containing optical and ultraviolet LEDs) in 2019.

The rovers were dropped onto the surface by Hayabusa2 - which in October will attempt a landing to collect samples and return them to Earth.

It was launched in 2014 and is due to return to Earth by 2020. "This is just a real charm of deep space exploration", said Takashi Kubota, a spokesman for the space agency.

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