The Hayabusa-2 spacecraft operated by the Japanese space agency JAXA has landed two hopping rovers on the surface of the asteroid Ryugu. The pair of seven-inch-wide rovers are the first of their kind to touch down on an asteroid. While on the body, the vehicles will take pictures of the surface, and record temperature readings.
Each hop of the rovers will cover roughly 15 meters (50 feet), taking 15 minutes to complete, due to the minuscule gravitational pull of the asteroid.
“Both rovers are confirmed to have landed on the surface of Ryugu. They are in good condition and have transmitted photos & data. We also confirmed they are moving on the surface,” reported JAXA on Twitter.
Stereo images from the pair of hopping rovers will be recorded, relayed to the orbiter, and transmitted back to Earth.
At the time when the hopping rovers were released from Hayabusa 2, the spacecraft was less than 60 meters (200 feet) from the asteroid Ryugu, 290 kilometers (180 million miles) from Earth.
Two other landers will join the smaller rovers over the next year. These include MASCOT (Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout), designed by the German and French space agencies, the largest of the landers, which will touch down in October. This will be followed in 2019 by another hopper, the MINERVA-II-2 rover.
The orbiter is scheduled to land on the asteroid in 2019, returning samples of the surface of the asteroid to Earth late the following year. In 2010, the first Hayabusa spacecraft returned samples to our home planet from the asteroid Itokawa. However, the rover built for that mission failed to reach its target, and is currently in orbit around the Sun.
In December 2018, the OSIRIS-Rex spacecraft, designed and operated by NASA, is scheduled to touch down on the asteroid Bennu, bringing samples of that body to Earth in 2023.