Science

Japan's Hayabusa2 explorer successfully deploys two rovers on asteroid surface

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency has released photos from the surface of an asteroid called Ryugu.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) took to Twitter to celebrate as two rovers caught photos on the surface of an asteroid called Ryugu.

The mission’s success marks the end of a four-year journey to collect photos and data from Ryugu and was confirmed in a tweet on Saturday from JAXA’s account for the Hayabusa2 asteroid explorer.

JAXA said: “We are sorry we have kept you waiting! MINERVA-II1 consists of two rovers… they are moving on the surface.”

On September 21, the small MINERVA-II1 rovers separated from the Hayabusa2 spacecraft. The spacecraft consists of two rovers, Rover-1A and Rover-1B, that both landed on the surface of asteroid Ryugu. Analysis confirmed that at least one of the rovers is moving on the asteroid surface.

The colour photos were captured by the hopping rovers as they set about exploring the asteroid’s surface.

In a statement, Makoto Yoshikawa, Hayabusa2 project mission manager, said: “I was so moved to see these small rovers successfully explore an asteroid surface because we could not achieve this at the time of Hayabusa, 13 years ago.

“I was particularly impressed with the images taken from close range on the asteroid surface.”

JAXA said MINERVA-II1 is: “The world’s first rover (mobile exploration robot) to land on the surface of an asteroid. This is also the first time for autonomous movement and picture capture on an asteroid surface.”

JAXA confirmed that operation of MINERVA-II1 will continue from now on, with the agency planning to acquire more data for analysis.

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