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Japanese Spacecraft Sends Down Tiny Robots To Explore Asteroid

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Japan made history after dropping two tiny rovers on the asteroid Ryugu located nearly 200 million miles away from Earth On Friday, Sept. 21.

The MINERVA-II1A and MINERVA-II1B, which hope to explore the giant asteroid, separated from the mothership as scheduled at midnight. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency confirmed that the rovers were deployed by Hyabusa2.

JAXA Loses Contact With MINERVA-II1 Rovers

Ground control was able to maintain communication with the two rovers shortly after they had separated from the Hyabusa2 but lost connection a few moments later. JAXA is still trying to reconnect to confirm that both explorers have landed but they assure that there is no reason to panic.

On Twitter, the team behind Hayabusa2 explained that the position of the MINERVA-II1 rovers is making it difficult to communicate. However, once Ryugu rotates, they expect to establish contact.

JAXA has also received the first photo sent by the rovers of Ryugu. The photo was captured before landing on the surface of the asteroid.

By early Saturday morning, JAXA reported that the Hyabusa2 spacecraft has returned to its home position.

The Hyabusa2 Mission

Once ready, the MINERVA-II1 rovers are expected to explore the surface of the asteroid. Both machines are equipped with cameras and temperature sensors to collect data from the Ryugu.

One key detail of both rovers is the ability to "hop" so as to move across the surface of the asteroid and explore multiple areas. Because the gravity on Ryugu is weak, the rover is expected to stay on the air for about 15 minutes after a single hop before landing back to the ground.

The Hyabusa2 is scheduled to drop another lander named MASCOT (Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout) on the surface of the asteroid in October and then deploy MINERVA-II2, another hopper sometime next year. The spacecraft will move in for an encounter later this year to collect a sample of Ryugu before it flies back to Earth.

The Hyabusa2 mission hopes to understand what the asteroid is made of. Ryugu and similar drifting rocks in space are believed to be remnants from the earlier years of the Solar System.

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