Science

Japan's Hayabusa2 space probe deploys rovers towards asteroid

Japan's Hayabusa2 space probe deploys rovers towards asteroid

Japan's Hayabusa 2 probe began the climactic phase of its mission overnight by sending out its first two rovers as it hovered less than 200 feet over an half-mile-wide asteroid, more than 180 million miles from Earth. The rovers move by "hopping" up to 15 meters (50 feet) at a time because the extremely weak gravity on the asteroid makes rolling hard.

If the mission is successful, the rovers will conduct the world's first moving, robotic observation of an asteroid's surface.

A pair of Minerva-II rovers are dropped on the egg-shaped Ryugu astroid. Each hop lasts 15 minutes.

So far so good, but JAXA must still wait for Hayabusa2 to send the rovers' data to Earth in a day or two to determine whether the release of the probes succeeded, officials said. "Now we are working on confirmation of receipt of images from the landing MINERVA-II1". "We don't have confirmation yet, but we are very, very hopeful", Yuichi Tsuda, JAXA project manager, told reporters.

Hayabusa 1 had a similar lander experiment, known as MINERVA (which stands for "Micro Nano Experimental Robot Vehicle for Asteroid"), but the drum-sized rover container missed making its landing and sailed off into interplanetary space instead. "I am looking forward to seeing pictures". So they haven't confirmed any images of the landing itself.




"Communication with MINERVA-II1 has now stopped", JAXA wrote on Twitter.

The two rovers have a hexagonal shape, weigh 1.1 kg (2.4 lb) each, are 7 cm (2.8 in.) tall, and have a diameter of 18 cm (7.1 in.).

From this crater, the probe will collect "fresh" materials unexposed to millennia of wind and radiation, hoping for answers to some fundamental questions about life and the universe, including whether elements from space helped give rise to life on Earth. The Hayabusa-2 will then depart in December 2019, bringing the rocks back to Earth for researchers to study.

JAXA tried to launch a probe in 2005, but it failed to land on its target asteroid.


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