Space robots sent hurtling toward asteroid

Rodiano Bonacci
Settembre 22, 2018

The Hayabusa 2 spacecraft has sent two small robotic probes toward the asteroid Ryugu, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) announced on September 21.

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

The spacecraft arrived near the asteroid, about 170 million miles from Earth, in June. Unfortunately, JAXA engineers will need to wait a couple of days to receive confirmation that the rovers are ready to perform their scientific duties. "This is probably due to the rotation to Ryugu, and MINERVA-II1 is now on the far side of the asteroid".

What's next? Over the next year, two larger landers will also be released onto the asteroid to collect data and rock samples. "We are now working to confirm if there are images capturing the MINERVA-II1 landing".

After the landing, the two rovers - measuring just 18 centimetres across - will make small hops on the asteroid and capture images of the surface and measure temperatures, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said.

Since Hayabusa 2 first rendezvoused with the asteroid earlier this summer, the probe has been regularly snapping photographs of the target.

The two Minerva-II robots are created to take advantage of the asteroid's low gravity, making long hops across its surface.

The explorer was launched at the Tanegashima Space Centre in southern Japan in December 2014.

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