Japan’s Hayabusa2 explorer successfully deploys two rovers on asteroid surface


The MINERVA-II1 rovers were deployed on September 21 to explore the surface of asteroid Ryugu.

Ryugu is 900 meters wide and is believed to be a C-type asteroid, making it pretty ancient - over 4 billion years old when the Solar System was very young.

Speaking after the initial rover landings, Yuichi Tsuda, project manager for the Hayabusa2 mission, said: "I can not find words to express how happy I am that we were able to realise mobile exploration on the surface of an asteroid".

This is not the first time scientists have explored an asteroid.

While it's unlikely to win an Oscar, a short movie shot on the surface of a near-Earth asteroid is a major scientific milestone.

These rovers don't operate like their counterparts on Mars, though.

Unlike the Mars rovers, which require trundling along slowly on wheels, the rovers launched from the Hayabusa2 "mothership" are created to bounce within Ryugu's low gravity in order to navigate the hard terrain. Ryugu also has a weak gravitational field, so a standard rover would start floating into space as soon as it started moving. Although robots Rover MINERVA are already on the surface of the Ryuga, to the ground meteorite, it may take several years.

As the asteroids have low gravity, these rovers will jump as high as 49ft and stay in the air for 15 mins to analyze the geographical features of the asteroid. Well, if you were not a human but rather a seven-inch-diameter, just under 3-inch-tall, hopping robot?

The images released on Thursday clearly show Ryugu's surface covered with rocks of various shapes and sizes.

Rover 1B snapped this picture of Ryugu's rocky terrain shortly after its arrival. Variations in temperature will help shed light about its physical properties and its possible makeup of elements. In about a week or so, the duo will be joined by the MASCOT lander, who will use an infrared microscope and wide-angle camera to record Ryugu's structural, compositional and surface characteristics, and also document how well it holds onto heat and what its magnetic properties looks like.

Hayabusa2 will then drop in the crater to collect samples that will be sent to Earth for lab studies.

The "hopping" robots were primarily stored at the base of the "mothership" Hayabusa2 in a drum-shaped container. Several more probes are scheduled to be sent onto Ryugu's surface in the coming months to gather even more information from the asteroid with plans to return to Earth at the end of 2019.