Japan's Hayabusa2 space probe deploys rovers towards asteroid

The robots have been likened to biscuit tins

Image The robots have been likened to biscuit tins

We are now working to confirm if there are images capturing the MINERVA-II1 landing.

"We are very much hopeful". Being isolated on the far side is just a temporary setback, however.

The explorers, developed by institutes such as JAXA and the University of Aizu, are 18 centimeters in diameter and 7 centimeters in height.

[MINERVA-II1] The altitude of Hayabusa2 when this image was captured was about 80m (262 feet).

Hayabusa2 approached as close as 55 meters (180 feet) to the asteroid to lower the rovers, waited for a minute and then rose back to its waiting position about 20 kilometers (12 miles) above the surface.

"Communication with MINERVA-II1 has now stopped", JAXA wrote on Twitter. The spacecraft aims to extensively study asteroid Ryugu and will observe its surface with advanced camera and sensing equipment before heading back to Earth in 2020. Joining a very special club If the landings of the two little robot hoppers are confirmed, they will join a very select club.

After a 3.2 billion-kilometer journey, the Hayabusa-2 asteroid-sampling space probe stabilized in June in orbit around Ryugu, a space rock which is now about 280 million kilometers from our planet.

The target touchdown site for NEAR (yellow circle) landing on asteroid Eros in 2001.

MINERVA-II rovers, Rover-1A and Rover-1B, are the first two of total four rovers in the mission.

The two robots will capture images of the asteroid and measure temperatures before a larger rover is released in early October. And all the world knows about the only mission that has ever executed a soft landing on a comet.

The rovers move around by hopping, because the gravity on the asteroid makes rolling hard. Dropping robotic rovers on Ryugu surface is also an important part of this mission. "Therefore, this hopping mechanism was adopted for moving across the surface of such small celestial bodies", they added.

One of the goals of the mission is to see if Ryugu (and other asteroids like it) might carry the chemical building blocks for life, which would lend credence to the theory that asteroid impacts "seeded" Earth with the materials needed for bacteria and more complex lifeforms to develop. "Scout", now that would have been a good name, too.

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