Japan's Hayabusa2 Spacecraft Successfully Deploys Landers To Asteroid Ryugu's Surface


But now, the Japanese space agency - referred to as JAXA - has managed to achieve an even greater feat with the successful landing of two small rovers on the surface of another asteroid called Ryugu.

On a primitive piece of space rock more than 100 million miles (160 million kilometres) from Earth, two tiny robotic explorers took their first cautious "hops" this weekend - the first movements made by any human-made spacecraft across the surface of an asteroid.

"The two rovers are in good condition and are transmitting images and data", the agency, JAXA, said on Saturday after the rovers separated from the Hayabusa2 spacecraft and landed on the asteroid Ryugu.

Japanese unmanned spacecraft Hayabusa2 released two small Minerva-II-1 rovers on the asteroid Ryugu on September 21.

The first image that was transmitted by Rover-1A depicts its dizzying deployment from the Hayabusa2 spacecraft rotating. The craft has previously flown tantalizingly close to the asteroid's surface for the goal of measuring its gravitational pull; while descending to Ryugu this time, Hayabusa2 travelled from its orbit 12.

The rovers are equipped with high-end cameras to click photos of the asteroid.

In October, the Hayabusa2 probe will deploy an "impactor" that will explode above the asteroid, shooting a 2kg copper missile to blast a small crater into the surface.

NASA's NEAR-Shoemaker, launched in 1996, closely flew past asteroid Mathilde, coming within 1212 km of the asteroid's surface, next year. "This is just a real charm of deep space exploration", said Takashi Kubota, a spokesman for the space agency. The rovers also feature sensors that measure the surface temperatures, and Hayabusa2 itself carries sensors for remote sensing and sampling. Hayabusa2 will then collect samples from the crater, which will later be sent to Earth for laboratory studies.

Hayabusa2 launched in December 2014 and is due back to Earth in 2020.

Hayabusa-2 reached the asteroid, which was left over from the early days of our Solar System, but the rovers have only just been deployed.

By the end of next year, the spacecraft is expected to begin its return journey to Earth with a cache of samples collected from Ryugu.