Japan successfully lands rovers on asteroid Ryugu

They Made It! Japan's Two Hopping Rovers Successfully Land on Asteroid Ryugu

Japan's Aerospace Exploration Agency, JAXA, shared photos taken by its MINERVA-II1A and MINERVA-II1B from the surface of the asteroid Ryugu on Saturday. Engineers with the agency deployed the robots early Friday (Sept. 21), but JAXA waited until today (Sept. 22) to confirm the operation was successful and both rovers made the landing safely.

The rovers are the first to land successfully on an asteroid's surface.

Each of the two Minerva-II1 rovers measures 18 centimeters in diameter and 7 cm in height and weighs 1.1 kilograms.

In order to complete the deployment, the main spacecraft of the Hayabusa2 mission lowered itself carefully down toward the surface until it was just 120 feet (55 meters) up.

MINERVA-II1 sent photos of the cratered asteroid as it approached the surface.

The cautious announcement came after a similar JAXA probe in 2005 released a rover that failed to reach its target asteroid. The asteroid appears at lower right.

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"The two rovers are in good condition and are transmitting images and data", it said in a statement.

While the first images were less than awe-inspiring, successive shots show a craggy, pitted surface fit for a Hollywood blockbuster.

"I was so moved to see these small rovers successfully explore an asteroid surface because we could not achieve this at the time of Hayabusa, 13 years ago". That was because they could float off into space if they landed hard due to the impact of the landing and the asteroid's weak gravitational pull.

Hayabusa2, about the size of a large fridge and equipped with solar panels, is the successor to JAXA's first asteroid explorer, Hayabusa -, Japanese for falcon.

Hayabusa2 is scheduled to attempt three brief touch-and-go landings on the asteroid to collect samples in hopes of providing clues to the origin of the solar system and life on Earth. Hayabusa 2 doesn't leave until December 2019, and isn't expected to return home until December 2020.

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