Scientists monitoring the progress of a Japanese spacecraft confirmed that two small robots have successfully reached the surface of asteroid Ryugu and are now sending back images of their new environment.
Japan’s Hayabusa 2 probe was launched in December 2014, and arrived in orbit around asteroid 162173 ‘Ryugu’ in June. Two small ‘rovers’ MINERVA-II 1A and MINERVA-II 1B have been deployed.
For only the second time in history, a human-made spacecraft is believed to have successfully landed on an asteroid.
Astronomers with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) have confirmed that the landing of the two tiny robots was successful and that both devices are fully functioning.
Just as it was about to touch down on the space rock, the asteroid’s rotation took the craft out of view of Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) scientists in Chofu. They’ll have to wait until Saturday morning to find out what happened.
If their landings are successful, the two “rovers” will explore Ryugu’s surface with a variety of scientific gear, including temperature and optical sensors and seven different cameras, Space.com noted.
The mothership in orbit above the asteroid is a lander, too. Before all is said and done, it, too, will crash into Ryugu, plummeting down to the asteroid in 2019 to grab samples of subsurface material after impact. The capsule containing the sample will hopefully return to Earth for analysis in late 2020.
The Hayabusa 2 mission altogether costs $150 million and has been undertaken with the German Aerospace Center and French space agency CNES.
Why spend all that money to go after dust on Ryugu? Well, for one, the asteroid is estimated to have as much as $80 billion worth of nickel and iron on it, and space mining is the next big thing.
Space.com / ABC Flash Point Explorer News 2018.