Spaceflight

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

Meghan Bartels |
This spectacular photo shows the view from asteroid Ryugu from the Minerva-II1A rover during a hop after it successfully landed on Sept. 21, 2018. The probe is one of two that landed on Ryugu from the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency's Hayabusa2 spacecraft. It's the first time two mobile rovers landed on an asteroid. Original Image
Credit: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency

The suspense is over: Two tiny hopping robots have successfully landed on an asteroid called Ryugu — and they've even sent back some wild postcards from their new home.

The tiny rovers are part of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's Hayabusa2 asteroid sample-return mission. 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.

The rovers are part of the MINERVA-II1 program, and are designed to hop along the asteroid's surface, taking photographs and gathering data. In fact, one of the initial images sent home by the hoppers is awfully blurry, since the robot snapped it while still on the go.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's Minerva-II1 rover captured this view of asteroid Ryugu (bottom) and the Hayabusa2 spacecraft (at top right) just after the rover separated from the spacecraft on Sept. 21, 2018. Original Image
Credit: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency

In order to complete the deployment, the main spacecraft of the Hayabusa2 mission lowered itself carefully down toward the surface until it was just 180 feet (55 meters) up. 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).

The MINERVA-II1B rover captured this view of asteroid Ryugu on Sept. 21, 2018 shortly after separating from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's Hayabusa2 spacecraft. The asteroid appears at lower right. Original Image
Credit: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency

The agency still has two more deployments yet to accomplish before it can rest easy: Hayabusa2 is scheduled to deploy a larger rover called MASCOT in October and another tiny hopper next year. And of course, the main spacecraft has a host of other tasks to accomplish during its stay at Ryugu — most notably, to collect a sample of the primitive world to bring home to Earth for laboratory analysis.

Editor's note: This story was updated to correct the deployment descent altitude in feet; the measurement in meters remains correct.

Email Meghan Bartels at mbartels@space.com or follow her @meghanbartels. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article on Space.com.

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Author Bio


Meghan Bartels, Space.com Senior Writer

Meghan is a science journalist based in New York City. She joined Space.com in July 2018, with previous writing published in outlets including Newsweek and Audubon. Meghan earned an MA in science journalism from New York University and a BA in classics from Georgetown University, and in her free time she enjoys reading and visiting museums. Follow her on Twitter at @meghanbartels.