Hayabusa 2 – the first twin space rovers landing on asteroid surface. On a crude bit of asteroid in over 100 million miles from Earth, two little robotic explorers took their first cautious ‘hops’ this end of the week – the primary developments made by any human-made rocket over the surface of an asteroid.
The twin rovers were deposited Friday on the half-mile-wide asteroid Ryugu by their parent rocket, the Japanese Space Agency’s Hayabusa 2. The next day, JAXA shared an impressionistic picture of their arrival site, the craggy dim stone of the carbon-rich Ryugu lit by a splendid light emission from the sun. JAXA explained in a news release announcing the asteroid’s name that, “The Hayabusa 2 will also bring back a capsule with samples, thus the theme of ‘bringing back a treasure’ is common.”
The rovers, named MINERVA-II 1a and 1b, are each nearly the size and shape of a cookie tin. Solar-powered interior rotors hang them in the asteroid’s low gravity, enabling them to push themselves over its surface to snap photos and take temperature information.
Yuichi Tsuda, project manager said in a statement when the rovers’ safe arrival was confirmed, “I cannot find words to express how happy I am.”
Planetary Society CEO Bill Nye tweeted after the rovers made their descent Friday that, “By studying asteroids, we learn more about the early solar system and more about life itself. It is amazing to be a human living at this moment in the history of space exploration.”