Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa2 was launched from Earth back in November 2014, backpacking on a H-IIA rocket, in an attempt to arrive in the vicinity of Ryugu, a near-Earth asteroid that orbits the sun every 16 months.
The rock is known as a relic and belongs to a primitive type of asteroid formerly known as 162173 Ryugu.
The wanderers move by jumping and will send back information about the space rock utilizing cameras and instruments, including temperature and optical sensors.
The two “MINERVA” landers, which the probe deployed on the asteroid, have already made contact with the mother ship and sent back home some unbelievable pictures as well.
Unlike the photos of Comet 67p taken by Rosetta, these are the first ever close-up images of an asteroid in colour.
The rovers, collectively named MINERVA-II1 – which stands for the “MIcro Nano Experimental Robot Vehicle for Asteroid” – have been stowed away on the bottom of Hayabusa2 during its long journey to this carbon-rich, diamond-shaped asteroid that is a kilometre in diameter. “I am proud that Hayabusa2 was able to contribute to the creation of this technology for a new method of space exploration by surface movement on small bodies”. They were deployed from the spacecraft and successfully landed on Ryugu, and both are still in good condition.
This milestone for Japan is a landmark event in the history of Space Exploration and gives Japan the honor of being the world’s first country to achieve observation of an asteroid via robots.
The rovers will be used to conduct more research on the origins of the solar system.
Image: The surface of Ryugu is in the lower right.
If it works, Hayabusa2 itself can descend to the surface of Ryugu to analyse the underground makeup of the asteroid, and collect some samples to bring home. This asteroid is believed to be a particularly early one, with a wealth of water and organic material that will shed light on the “building blocks of Earth”.
27 September 2018
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