Japanese Spacecraft Successfully Landed The First Rovers On An Asteroid

Japanese Spacecraft Successfully Landed The First Rovers On An Asteroid

Artist's impression of Rover 1A and 1B on Ryugu.Jaxa

Two rovers sent to an asteroid by a Japanese spacecraft have landed successfully, an exciting moment in the history of space exploration.

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's (JAXA) Hayabusa-2 spacecraft released the two rovers, Rover 1A and 1B, together known as Minerva II-1, on 21 September 2018. Following a descent lasting a couple of hours, they've successfully touched down.

Each tiny rover weighs about one kilogram (two pounds), and they're designed to hop across the surface of the asteroid. They were carried to Ryugu, located approximately 280 million kilometers (175 million miles) from Earth, by Hayabusa-2 after launching in December 2014.

According to iflscience.com, in June 2018, Hayabusa-2 arrived at Ryugu, that measures about one kilometer (0.6 miles) across. The spacecraft will remain there until December 2019, to map the surface of the asteroid and perform a slew of scientific investigations. That includes sending four landers to the asteroid's surface, with Minerva II-1 being the first of the landing attempts.

The rovers will "hop" across the surface spinning a mass inside of them. That transfers momentum, causing them to tumble or jump across the surface. Every movement needs to be carefully controlled so that the landers do not accidentally jump too high and escape the asteroid’s gravity.

That's because the gravitational pull of the asteroid is unbelievably weak. While they weigh a kilogram on Earth, on Ryugu every lander has a relative mass of less than a quarter of a gram. Every hop can reach a distance of several meters, moving at up to nine centimeters (3.5 inches) per second.

On board, every rover are cameras that will send back photos from the asteroid. They also contain sensors which will measure the surface temperature at different locations. The photos and data will be sent back to Hayabusa-2, that will relay the information to Earth.

Hayabusa-2 is the successor to the Hayabusa mission, that visited the asteroid Itokawa in the early 2000s. The spacecraft also attempted to deploy a lander, called MINERVA. However, it failed and was lost on its way to the asteroid.

The first mission did manage to return a tiny sample of the asteroid to Earth, however, despite the system designed to collect material mostly failing. Hayabusa-2 will try to better this, using an impactor to hit the surface and form a crater. Then, the spacecraft will try to scoop up material from the crater.

As mentioned Hayabusa-2 has also two other landers, the Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout (MASCOT) and Rover 2, part of the Minerva-II mission as well. The former will be released at the start of October 2018, and the latter in 2019.

However, for now, we have the fascinating news that these first two landers have been successful. The drama has been somewhat comparable to the Philae landing on Comet 67P back in November 2014, the first-ever landing on a comet. Now all eyes are on Rovers 1A and 1B.

Japanese Spacecraft Successfully Landed The First Rovers On An Asteroid Japanese Spacecraft Successfully Landed The First Rovers On An Asteroid Reviewed by Katerina Papakyriakopoulou on 12:43 PM Rating: 5

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