Japan’s ‘hopping rovers’ successfully land & send first images from Ryugu asteroid

They Made It! Japan's Two Hopping Rovers Successfully Land on Asteroid Ryugu

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 agency said the round, biscuit tin-shaped robots had successfully landed on the Ryugu asteroid a day after they were released from the Hayabusa2 probe.

The rover mission marks the world's first moving, robotic observation of an asteroid's surface, according to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

The kilometer-wide space rock, which is shaped like a diamond, is expected to be "rich in water and organic materials", allowing scientists to "clarify interactions between the building blocks of Earth and the evolution of its oceans and life, thereby developing solar system science", JAXA said in a statement. 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 solar-powered rovers' voltage plunged as night fell on Ryugu, a sign that they are on the asteroid, said Hayabusa project team spokesman Takashi Kubota.

"We are very hopeful", project manager Yuichi Tsuda said.

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"I am looking forward to seeing pictures. I want to see the scenery of space seen from Ryugu's surface".

A series of specially designed cameras - four on the first rover and three on the second - will take stereo images of the asteroid's surface.

The rovers move by "hopping" up to 15 metres at a time because the extremely weak gravity on the asteroid makes rolling hard.

Friday's release bolstered the project members' confidence ahead of more hard maneuvers in the future, Tsuda said. Hayabusa returned to Earth in 2010.

After examining the far distant object and taking samples, Hayabusa2 will depart Ryugu in December 2019 before returning to Earth by the end of 2020 with its cargo of samples.

The probe's predecessor Hayabusa, named after the Japanese word for peregrine falcon, arrived at the Itokawa asteroid in 2005 to conduct scientific observations but its Minerva explorer failed to reach the surface.

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