TOKYO, Sept 23 ― A pair of robot rovers have landed on an asteroid and begun a survey, Japan's space agency said yesterday, as it conducts a mission aiming to shed light on the origins of the solar system.
The solar-powered rovers' voltage plunged on Ryugu, a sign that they are on the asteroid, said Hayabusa project team spokesman Takashi Kubota. Each rover remains "airborne" for about 15 minutes with each hop, moving approximately 15 meters (~50 feet) each time.
The rovers maneuver by hopping and will send back data about the asteroid using cameras and instruments, including temperature and optical sensors. During this period, the rover will analyze the hole made and collect samples that will be picked up by Hayabusa2 which is expected to land on the surface at the end of October next year.
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.
The second image received on Earth was captured by Rover-1B and shows a much clearer definition of the surface of Ryugu in the lower right corner, with sunlight reflection visible on the top left.
Ground control was able to maintain communication with the two rovers shortly after they had separated from the Hyabusa2 but lost connection a few moments later. I felt awed by what we had achieved in Japan.
Japan's Hayabusa 2 test has discharged its two scaled-down mechanical landers toward the objective space rock Ryugu.
Hayabusa2 launched from Earth back in November, 2014, aboard a Japanese H-IIA rocket, and arrived in the vicinity of Ryugu in June of this year. Around autmun next year, Hayabusa2 will fire a 2kg copper "collision device" at Ryugu, attempting to blow a small crater in the surface.
The mission is devoted to learning more about the composition and evolution of C-type, or carbonaceous, asteroids and to test technologies enabling deep space sample collection and techniques for obtaining sub-surface materials for later analysis. To confirm or refute their theory, the probe in total, to make three landings on an asteroid, after which by 2020, will return to Earth.