Japanese Mission Becomes first to Land Rovers on Asteroid

By Elizabeth Gibney, Nature magazine

Japan’s asteroid mission Hayabusa2 has become the first to land moving rovers on the surface of an asteroid.

On 22 September, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) tweeted that it had confirmed the mission’s twin rovers, called MINERVA-II 1A and 1B, had landed safely on the space rock Ryugu, and were moving on the surface.

The Hayabusa2 mothership deployed the small probes late last week as it dropped to just 55 metres above the surface, later pulling up to a higher orbit.

Mission controllers at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) lost communication with the MINERVA rovers in the hours after deployment. The team said the silence was probably down to the landers being on the far side of the asteroid, as seen from the orbiter.

But the hexagonal rovers have now sent back their first, slightly blurry, colour images of their surface and made their first ‘hop’—their primary means of movement on the rock’s surface. The probes use rotating motors to make jumps, each lasting some 15 minutes owing to the body’s low gravity.

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