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Two Tiny Hopping Rovers Race Toward Near-Earth Asteroid

24 September 2018, 03:34 | Justin Tyler

Two Tiny Hopping Rovers Race Toward Near-Earth Asteroid

This image provided by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, shows the shadow center left of Japanese unmanned spacecraft Hayabusa2 over the asteroid Ryugu Friday Sept. 21 2018. The Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa2 released two small Minerva-II

The status of the two rovers has yet to be confirmed, But if they did land successfully on Ryugu, they will have finally fulfilled part of the mission that Hayabusa had originally meant to accomplish.

The solar panelled-powered rovers move by "hopping" because the extremely weak gravity on the asteroid makes rolling hard. "I want to see the scenery of space seen from Ryugu's surface".

The spacecraft is set to release a German-French lander called Mascot carrying four observation devices in early October and a bigger rover called Minerva-II-2 next year. "The rover is expected to remain in the air for up to 15 minutes after a single hop before landing, and to move up to 15 m (50 feet) horizontally".

The Japanese space agency said it hopes to explore some of the asteroid's "minerals, water and organic matter" in a bid to "learn about the origin and evolution of Earth". The operation started when the probe was approximately 55 metres over rough rocky surface of the asteroid, as told by the mission team.

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. "Additional instruments on the rovers include optical sensors, an accelerometer and a gyroscope". The goal of the $150 million mission is to study the asteroid in depth, from space and from the surface, and bring samples back to Earth in late 2020. Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) statement reads.

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.

"This form of Ryugu is scientifically surprising, and also poses a few engineering challenges", it said of difficulties, including landing, on the unusually shaped asteroid.

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