A pair of robot rovers have landed on an asteroid and begun a survey, Japan’s space agency said Saturday, as it conducts a mission aiming to shed light on the origins of the solar system.
If the mission is successful, the rovers will conduct the world’s first moving, robotic observation of an asteroid surface.
Taking advantage of the asteroid’s low gravity, they will jump around on the surface — soaring as high as 15 meters and staying in the air for as long as 15 minutes — to survey the asteroid’s physical features with cameras and sensors.
Hayabusa2 is an unmanned explorer. It was launched in 2014 aboard Japan’s main H-IIA rocket from Tanegashima Space Centre for its six-year mission to bring back mineral samples from the asteroid.
The probe will also release a French-German landing vehicle named Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout (MASCOT) for surface observation.
Hayabusa2, about the size of a large fridge and equipped with solar panels, is the successor to JAXA’s first asteroid explorer, Hayabusa — Japanese for the falcon.
If all goes well, soil samples will be returned to Earth in late 2020.
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