Japanese Probe Successfully Launches "Hopping Robots" on Asteroid

Of Rovers Landing On An Asteroid Are Stunning

Solar-powered internal rotors loft them in the asteroid's low gravity, allowing them to propel themselves across its surface to snap photographs and take temperature data. The cookie tin-shaped robots reached the Ryugu asteroid a day after they were launched from the Hayabusa2 probe, the agency said.

This is the first exploration of an asteroid by a rover. Around Autumn next year, Hayabusa2 will fire a 2 kilogram copper "collision device" at Ryugu, attempting to blow a small crater in the surface. As emphasized by team members, they had to make a hopping mechanism for the movement of robots on the asteroid, as due to the normal system of movement, they would have just "floated" over the surface. MINERVA-II1 consists of two rovers, 1a & 1b.

Japan's space agency workers can now breathe easy. "This is just a real charm of deep space exploration", Takashi Kubota, a spokesman for the space agency, told CNN.

The agency confirmed on Twitter that the rovers, which measure 7 cm in height and 18 cm in diameter, were in good condition and moving on the space rock's surface transmitting photos and data. This instrument will dig a hole on the asteroid and collect the sample from below Ryugu's surface and bring it to Earth. While they contain scientific instruments including cameras, thermometers, and accelerometers, one goal of the rovers (which use torque generated by rotating internal components instead of wheels) is simply to act as a proof of concept for low-gravity environmental exploration.

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The MINERVA-II1 cameras can shoot in color, as seen in the image above. I felt awed by what we had performed in Japan.

The rovers of Ryugu has also sent the first photo, that was captured before landing on the asteroid surface. If everything goes according to plan, the shuttle will leave Ryugu in 2019 and will return back to Earth in 2020.

Asteroid Ryugu is a 3,278ft-wide (1km) space rock from the earliest days of the solar system.

The Hayabusa2 is also scheduled to deploy a bigger lander called MASCOT in October, following the successful landing.

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