Japan's Hayabusa2 releases robotic explorer towards asteroid in final mission
Japan's space agency confirmed Thursday the Hayabusa2 space probe successfully released a robotic explorer which is set to orbit the astroid Ryugu's equator in the last mission for the probe before returning to Earth.
The Japanese Hayabusa2 spacecraft lands on an asteroid to collect samples, July 11, 2019. [File Photo: IC/AP/JAXA]
The Minerva-II2 rover, the third of three Minerva-II robot vehicles installed on the Hayabusa2 probe, will research the astroids's gravity, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said.
The other two rovers were previously deployed to Ryugu's surface in last September and captured images of the asteroid's rocky surface.
Each rover is about 18 centimeters in diameter, 7 cm in height and weighs around 1 kilogram. They have been designed to "hop" along the surface of the asteroid as its low gravity would complicate the traditional way in which robotic explorers usually roll on wheels or tracks.
The rovers have taken images of the asteroid and performed other functions such as measuring its surface temperature.
JAXA said the Minerva-II2 rover will orbit the asteroid's equator eight times over five days. After that it is scheduled to touch down on Ryugu's surface.
Hayabusa2, meanwhile, will remain within 10 km above the asteroid and capture images with its sensors and cameras, JAXA said.
The 600-kg Hayabusa2 was launched from the Tanegashima Space Center in southwestern Japan on Dec. 2014 and has travelled in excess of 3.2 billion kilometers in space.
The probe made two landings on the asteroid and collected rock samples as well as conducted a number of exploratory activities in an attempt to find clues about the solar system's evolution and possibly the beginning of life itself.
Hayabusa2's mission will be completed when it returns to earth in 2020 with the samples of rocks it has collected from Ryugu. The asteroid is thought to contain water and other materials that could possibly support life.