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article imageTwo little hopping robots deployed to asteroid Ryugu

By Karen Graham     Sep 21, 2018 in Technology
This morning, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) confirmed the Hayabusa2 deployed the two tiny MINERVA-II1 hoppers toward the surface of the asteroid Ryugu around midnight EDT on Sept. 21, 2018.
JAXA officials confirmed they had received a clear signal from the MINERVA-II1 rovers after they were deployed, but they lost contact with them, possibly because of Ryugu's rotation. So they haven't confirmed any images of the landing itself.
"This is probably due to the rotation to Ryugu, and MINERVA-II1 is now on the far side of the asteroid," JAXA officials said. "We are currently working to confirm if there are images capturing the MINERVA-II1 landing."
Being isolated on the far side is just a temporary setback, however. The 3,000-foot-wide (900 meters) Ryugu completes one rotation every 7.5 hours, so the MINERVA-II1 rovers should be back in touch with JAXA real soon.
[MINERVA-II1] The altitude of Hayabusa2 when this image was captured was about 80m (262 feet).
[MINERVA-II1] The altitude of Hayabusa2 when this image was captured was about 80m (262 feet).
JAXA
The status of the two rovers has yet to be confirmed, But if they did land successfully on Ryugu, they will have finally fulfilled part of the mission that Hayabusa had originally meant to accomplish.
The drum that housed the rovers, Minerva-II1, was actually named after the lander carried on the original Hayabusa mission, launched by JAXA in 2003. That mission was also an attempt to collect a sample from an asteroid, but the lander, named MINERVA, was accidentally released when Hayabusa was too far away from the asteroid, so it got flung out into space and never landed.
Joining a very special club
If the landings of the two little robot hoppers are confirmed, they will join a very select club. To date, there has been only one soft touchdown on an asteroid, and that was NASA's Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous-Shoemaker spacecraft, which landed on the asteroid Eros in 2001.
The target touchdown site for NEAR (yellow circle) landing on asteroid Eros in 2001.
The target touchdown site for NEAR (yellow circle) landing on asteroid Eros in 2001.
NASA
If Rover-1A and 1B are on Ryugu, they will have more company soon. In October, Hayabusa2 will release another lander, made by the German Aerospace Center, called MASCOT. it will also hop across the asteroid in a similar way as the rovers.
And all the world knows about the only mission that has ever executed a soft landing on a comet. In November 2014, the European Space Agency's Rosetta orbiter dropped a lander called Philae onto 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.
The comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko  taken on September 19 when Rosetta was 28.6 km from the comet
The comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, taken on September 19 when Rosetta was 28.6 km from the comet
, European Space Agency/Rosetta/Navcam/AFP
Because the surface of the asteroid is much smaller than a planet, the robot rovers are designed to hop rather than roll along on wheels. "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," mission team members wrote in a MINERVA-II1 description.
"Therefore, this hopping mechanism was adopted for moving across the surface of such small celestial bodies," they added. "The rover is expected to remain in the air for up to 15 minutes after a single hop before landing, and to move up to 15 m [50 feet] horizontally."
By the way, "MASCOT" stands for "Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout. "Scout," now that would have been a good name, too.
More about Hayabusa2 probe, Ryugu, JAXA, softtouchdown, Technology
 
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