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Japan lands rovers on asteroid in historic mission

September 22, 2018

Japanese scientists have praised "the world’s first rover to land on the surface of an asteroid." The Hayabusa2 is expected to land a German-made lander carrying a larger rover in October.

An artistic depiction of rovers landing on the Ryugu asteroid
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) on Saturday said it landed a pair of rovers on an asteroid, marking the world's first moving, robotic observation of an asteroid surface.

"I cannot find words to express how happy I am that we were able to realize mobile exploration on the surface of an asteroid," said Yuichi Tsuda, project manager for the Hayabusa2 probe.

The Hayabusa2 probe was launched in December 2014. Its chief aim is to explore the surface of the asteroid known as Ryugu, which carries the name of a dragon king's underwater palace from Japanese folklore. Scientists are hoping to discover more about the origins of life in our solar system.

The two rovers Hayabusa2 managed to land on the asteroid are expected to take advantage of the low gravity and jump around the surface — reaching heights of up to 15 meters (49 feet) — to survey the near-earth object.

"Gravity on the surface of Ryugu is very weak, so a rover propelled by normal wheels or crawlers would float upwards as soon as it started to move," JAXA said. "Therefore this hopping mechanism was adopted for moving across the surface of such small celestial bodies."

Read more: Japanese companies plan to build moon colonies

Next month, the Hayabusa2 is expected to land a German-French lander called MASCOT. The lander is carrying four observation devices as well as a larger rover called Minerva-II-2.

If all goes well, the Hayabusa2 will return to earth with soil and rock samples in 2020, according to JAXA.

ls/jm (AFP, dpa)

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