Japan: Rovers explore asteroid

Japan: Rovers explore asteroid

A Japanese spacecraft released two small rovers on an asteroid in September 2018 in a mission that could provide clues to the origin of the solar system.

The Japan Space Exploration Agency (JAXA) said the two Minerva-II-1 rovers were lowered from the unmanned spacecraft Hayabusa2 to the asteroid Ryugu. The spacecraft arrived near the asteroid, about 280 million kilometers from Earth, in June 2018.

Hayabusa2 approached as close as 55 meters to the asteroid to lower the rovers, waited for a minute and then rose back to its waiting position about 20 kilometers above the surface. JAXA said the release was successful.

The solar-powered rovers’ voltage plunged as night fell on Ryugu, a sign that they are on the asteroid, said Hayabusa project team spokesman Takashi Kubota.

“We are very hopeful,” project manager Yuichi Tsuda said. “I’m excited about seeing the pictures. I want to see the scenery of space seen from Ryugu’s surface.”

The rovers, each about the size of a cookie can, are to capture images of the asteroid and measure surface temperatures before a larger rover and a lander are released later. The rovers move by “hopping” up to 15 meters at a time because the extremely weak gravity on the asteroid makes rolling difficult. They can continue jumping as long as their solar panels and power last, JAXA said.

The Associated Press