Japan spacecraft sends rovers to asteroid

Christopher Davidson
September 21, 2018

This computer graphic image provided by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) shows two drum-shaped and solar-powered Minerva-II-1 rovers on an asteroid.

A Japanese spacecraft is just hours away from a historic attempt to land two tiny hopping robots on the big asteroid Ryugu, and you can see near real-time photos of the spaceflight action.

The Hayabusa2 probe, which has been orbiting Ryugu since late June, is scheduled to deploy a pair of 2.4-lb.

Hayabusa2 carries four payloads - three rovers and the 10kg lander, the Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout (MASCOT) built by the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) and the French space agency (CNES).

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Hayabusa2 released the Minerva-II 1 explorers toward a location north of the asteroid's equator shortly past 1 p.m., when it reached a point some 50-60 meters above Ryugu.

JAXA said confirmation of the robots' touchdown has to wait until it receives data from them on Saturday. JAXA said the release went successfully.

The explorers will make repeated jumps with motors to move on the surface of the asteroid with one-80,000th of the Earth's gravity.

The asteroid is believed to contain organic substances and hydrated minerals, and the agency hopes the readings will help find out more about the origin and evolution of the solar system. The Hayabusa-2 will then depart in December 2019, bringing the rocks back to Earth for researchers to study.

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