A pair of small robotic explorers released by Japan's Hayabusa2 space probe made history Saturday by landing on an asteroid 300 million kilometers from Earth. The first shot sent back can be seen above.
"I am so proud that we have established a new method of space exploration for small celestial bodies", said JAXA's project manager, Yuichi Tsuda. MINERVA-II1 consists of two rovers, 1a & 1b. Each Minerva II rover is only 18 inches across seven centimeters and weighs 1.1 kilos.
The cautious announcement came after a similar JAXA probe in 2005 released a rover that failed to reach its target asteroid.
Hayabusa2 was launched atop a Japanese H-2A rocket on December 3, 2014. "This is also the first time for autonomous movement and picture capture on an asteroid surface". "This is just a real charm of deep space exploration".
The two small "rovers", which were despatched from the Hayabusa-2 spacecraft on Friday, will move around the 1km-wide space rock known as Ryugu.
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"Correspondence with MINERVA-II1 has presently halted", JAXA composed on Twitter.
A third rover called MASCOT will be launched from Hayabusa2 in early October. Panic did not settle in, as the team believed that as the asteroid revolves once 7.5 hours, the rovers will be able to reconnect to Hayabusa2. The surface of Ryugu is in the lower right.
Asteroids are essentially leftover building materials from the formation of the Solar System 4.6 billion years ago. It returned, about 1,500 grains of rock, from the surface of the asteroid.
After waiting for the dust to settle in Ryugu's weak gravity, Hayabusa2 will descend into the newly-formed crater to collect pristine soil samples unaffected by solar radiation and other "weathering" effects. The main spacecraft will collect a sample to bring to Earth for laboratory analysis. The probe is on an asteroid sample-return mission, and is planning to survey the asteroid and return to Earth in December 2020.