II1 robots sent to space by Japan's Hayabusa-2 reach asteroid

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

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

The round, cookie tin-shaped robots successfully reached the Ryugu asteroid a day after they were released from the Hayabusa2 probe, the agency said.

As JAXA notes, MINERVA-II1 "is the world's first rover (mobile exploration robot) to land on the surface of an asteroid".

"The two rovers are in good condition and are transmitting images and data", a JAXA statement said after the rovers separated from the Hayabusa2 spacecraft and landed on the asteroid Ryugu.

Taking advantage of the asteroid's low gravity, the rovers will jump around on the surface - soaring as high as 15 metres and staying in the air for as long as 15 minutes - to survey the asteroid's physical features.

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The images were sent to the Earth through Hayabusa 2, which allowed JAXA to confirm at night on September 22 that the two rovers had successfully touched down.

The rovers are part of the MINERVA-II1 program, and are created to hop along the asteroid's surface, taking photographs and gathering data. "I am proud that Hayabusa 2 was able to contribute to the creation of this technology for a new method of space exploration by surface movement on small bodies", said Yuichi Tsuda, Hayabusa 2 Project Manager.

"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".

Hayabusa2, launched in December 2014, is due to return to Earth in late 2020.

It is also carrying a German and French-made explorer called Mascot, which will be released early next month, as well as a third Minerva-II explorer that is scheduled to see action next year. After the rovers were on their way, the spacecraft raised itself back up to its typical altitude of about 12.5 miles above the asteroid's surface (20 kilometers).

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