History was created on Friday, September 21 as Japan crowned itself with the title of “World’s first country to land rovers on an asteroid.” For the first-time entire world will observe the surface of an asteroid with the help of these moving robots.

Japanese space agency JAXA provided this intriguing piece of information and shared the images captured by the rovers.

The journey of the Rovers

Hayabusa-2 landed on the asteroid 162173 Ryugu in June but began its descent on Thursday morning, September 20, while preparing to eject its two rovers. A compact rover consisting of two rovers, Minerva-II1 separated from the Hayabusa2 spacecraft on September 21. It is a 3.3 kg compressed package that consists of two cookie-tin shaped rovers, Rover-1A and Rover-1B, which are now operational on the asteroid surface.

The “hopping” robots were primarily stored at the base of the “mothership” Hayabusa2 in a drum-shaped container. The robots were released at 196 ft from the asteroid on Friday. According to the JAXA’s description, both the rovers were designed to fall independently from the drum-shaped container on the spacecraft.

JAXA confirmed the landing of both the rovers on the surface of the asteroid Ryugu. “The two rovers are in good condition and are transmitting images and data,” said JAXA in a statement.

Although the European Space Agency had landed on an icy comet before, Minerva-II1 has earned the title of “world’s first rover to land on the asteroid”.

JAXA had previously attempted to land a rover on another asteroid in 2005 but failed to do so. It was confirmed that at least one of the rovers was moving on the asteroid surface after the rovers sent the captured image.

Project Minerva-II1 was delighted by the blurred image taken during one of the rover’s hops on the asteroid surface. The blur indicates the dynamic movement.

Makoto Yoshikawa, Hayabusa2 Project Mission Manager said, “Moreover, with the image taken during the hop on the asteroid surface, I was able to confirm the effectiveness of this movement mechanism on the small celestial body and see the result of many years of research.” He further added, “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. I was particularly impressed with the images taken from close range on the asteroid surface.”

The rovers are designed in a manner so that they can hop along the asteroid’s surface and take photos and gather data.

Rovers’ mission on asteroid Ryugu

As the asteroids have low gravity, these rovers will jump as high as 49ft and stay in the air for 15 mins to analyze the geographical features of the asteroid. The rovers weighing around a kilo are fitted out with stereo and wide-angle cameras.

Furthermore, they can also estimate the surface temperature of Ryugu using spine-like projections from the hoppers’ edges.

These rovers propel across the asteroid surface with the help of motor-powered internal rotors. An explosive charge above the asteroid will be deployed next month by the spacecraft Hayabusa2. A 2-kilo copper object will be shot into the surface of Ryugu to blast a small crater.

The probe furthermore plans to gather “fresh” samples from the crater that haven’t been exposed to radiation and wind for millions of years.

Hayabusa2 will then drop in the crater to collect samples that will be sent to Earth for lab studies.

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Patricia Kellogg is a journalist who has held many editorial roles at numerous high-profile publishers – both offline as well as online. She has an experience of more than 10 years in editing and proofreading articles across a range of sectors. She is also well versed with handling academic journal articles, theses, technical manuals, press releases, reports, feature articles, web site content, promotional material, policy papers, and grant proposals.