Japanese probe makes historic landing on asteroid

Японский зонд успешно сел на астероид

The agency tried but failed to land a rover on another asteroid in a similar mission in 2005.

Japan's space agency has landed two rovers on the surface of an asteroid, meaning they've also landed into the history books.

Artist's concept of Hayabusa 2 approaching asteroid 162173 Ryugu (1999 JU3). Each rover remains "airborne" for about 15 minutes with each hop, moving approximately 15 meters (~50 feet) each time. Engineers with the agency deployed the robots early Friday (Sept. 21), but JAXA waited until today (Sept. 22) to confirm the operation was successful and both rovers made the landing safely.

"Around the control room could hear heavy breathing", wrote representatives of space agencies prior to the release of the Rovers.

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A third lander is scheduled to be released October 3. Nowakowski's generous offer was gratefully received with the two organizations now working to better relay important developments as they pertain to space exploration.

The probes were released from the "mothership" Hayabusa-2 spacecraft and, if all went as planned, they would have drifted down to touch down on the asteroid's dusty surface. They have been created to "hop" along the surface of the asteroid as its low gravity would complicate the traditional way such robotic explorers usually roll on wheels or tracks. On the way and thanks to their many instruments (temperature sensors, optics, gyroscopes, accelerometers, seven cameras, etc.), each Minerva II will collect a series of data and images.

"We're glad that the Minerva-II 1 rovers took photos as we had expected", said Tetsuo Yoshimitsu, associate professor at JAXA. To reach its target, the spacecraft carried out a gravity-assist flyby of Earth in December 2015, putting the probe on course for arrival at Ryugu last June.

These samples will be sent to Earth for laboratory studies. The surface of Ryugu is in the lower right. It returned, about 1,500 grains of rock, from the surface of the asteroid. Eventually the Hayabusa-2 mission will see the spacecraft return actual asteroid samples to Earth, but that won't take place until 2020.

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