JAXA’s Hayabusa-2 asteroid-sampling probe dropped two rovers over asteroid Ryugu today with the mission to explore the space rock and sample it to help scientists learn more about the evolution of our solar system and the origin of life on Earth.
“The separation between the Hayabusa-2 probe and the rovers went well,” stated Japanese Space Agency, JAXA.
If these Minerva rovers of the second-generation make it to their destination and do their job, it would be the world’s first successful asteroid-sampling mission.
“We are very hopeful,” said Yuichi Tsuda, one of the project leaders from JAXA, at a press conference.
Once they have reached their destination, the robotic rovers will then have to move on the asteroid Ryugu by making large jumps, a solution considered safer than rolling themselves on the space rock’s surface that appears very uneven.
Hayabusa-2 asteroid-sampling probe approached asteroid Rugu to drop Minerva-II rovers before returning to its orbital position
After a 3.2 billion-kilometer journey, the Hayabusa-2 asteroid-sampling space probe stabilized in June in orbit around Ryugu, a space rock which is currently about 280 million kilometers from our planet.
The main focus of this JAXA scientific mission is to violently throw a projectile at asteroid Ryugu to cause a shock on the surface and collect the dust thrown by the impact. By that, scientists hope to be able to learn which organic and aqueous materials were initially present in our solar system.
The ultimate goal of the mission, however, is to contribute to enriching our knowledge on our space environment, “to better understand the emergence of life on Earth,” as JAXA explained.
Hayabusa-2, whose return to Earth is scheduled for 2020, will also drop on asteroid Ryugu an autonomous probe called Mascot, designed by the French and German scientists. Mascot, whose lifespan would only be about twelve hours, will use four instruments, including a spectral microscope to determine the mineralogical composition of the asteroid’s soil.