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Japan lowers the robbers ‘dumpling’ asteroid, hopeful of the historic touchdown

This computer graphic image provided by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) shows two drum-shaped and solar-energy Minerva-II-1 robbers on an asteroid. Japanese unmanned space probe Hayabusa2 brought two small Minerva-II-1 rovers on the asteroid Ryugu on Friday, Sept. 21, 2018, in a study that can provide clues about the origin of the solar system. JAXA said, confirmation of the robbers’ touchdown has to wait until the receipt of data from them on Saturday. (JAXA via AP)

The japanese Hayabusa-2 spacecraft has been reduced to two small rovers on an asteroid in an epic mission for the study of the distant space rock.

The preparations are underway for the landing because the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA) spacecraft reached the “dumpling-shaped” asteroid in June.

The solar-powered rovers’ tension resurfaced as the night fell on Ryugu, a sign that they are on the asteroid, said Hayabusa project team spokesman Takashi Kubota.

SPACE ‘DUMPLING’ RENDEZ-VOUS: THE JAPANESE HAYABUSA-2 SPACECRAFT ARRIVES AT ASTEROID RYUGU

[MINERVA-II1] Communication with the MINERVA-II1 has stopped. This is probably the result of the rotation Ryugu, and MINERVA-II1 is now on the other side of the asteroid. We are currently working to check if there are capturing images of the MINERVA-II1 landing. #asteroidlanding

— HAYABUSA2@JAXA (@haya2e_jaxa), September 21, 2018

In a tweet, the mission said that work to confirm that there are images of the landing.

“We are very hopeful,” project manager Yuichi Tsuda said. “I’m excited about seeing the photos. I want to see the landscape from space, as seen from Ryugu the surface.”

JAXA said, confirmation of the robots’ safe landing to wait for the receipt of data from them on Saturday.

This image of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), shows the shadow, middle left, of the Japanese unmanned space probe Hayabusa2 on asteroid Ryugu Friday, Sept. 21, 2018. The Japanese space probe Hayabusa2 brought two small Minerva-II-1 rovers on the asteroid on Friday in a study that can provide clues about the origin of the solar system. JAXA said, confirmation of the robbers’ touchdown has to wait until the receipt of data from them on Saturday. (JAXA via AP)

The two MINERVA-II1 rovers, each about the size of a cookie can be for capturing images of the asteroid and to measure the surface temperatures for a larger rover and a lander are later released. The robbers moved by “hopping” up to 15 metres at a time, because the very weak gravity of the asteroid makes it difficult. They jump as long as their solar panels and power last, JAXA said.

Hayabusa-2 is scheduled to try the three brief touch-and-go landings on the asteroid to collect samples, in the hope of providing clues to the origin of the solar system and life on Earth. Since they arrived at the Ryugu, scientists are looking for suitable landing sites on the uneven surface, and the first attempt is expected in October.

SPACE ‘DUMPLING’ LOOMS INTO VIEW AS THE SPACECRAFT PREPARES FOR ASTEROID RENDEZVOUS

The spacecraft is set to release a German-French lander called MASCOT (Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout) with four observation devices in the beginning of October, and a larger rover called Minerva-II-2 next year.

Illustration of Hayabusa-2 (JAXA)

After a journey of nearly 2 billion miles, the Hayabusa-2 spacecraft arrived at the Ryugu on June 27, when the asteroid was nearly 170 million miles from Earth.

Launched on Dec. 3, 2014, Hayabusa-2’s goal is to retrieve samples of Ryugu.

AN ASTEROID TURNED INTO A BLAZING FIREBALL OVER AFRICA

Hayabusa-2 is expected to leave Ryugu at the end of 2019 and returning to Earth around the end of 2020.

Optical Navigation Camera – Telescopic (ONC-T) image of Ryugu, photographed at 12:50 pm (JST), June 26, 2018. (Credits: JAXA, University of Tokyo, Kochi University, Rikkyo University, Nagoya University, Chiba Institute of Technology, Meiji University, University of Aizu, AIST)

The mission of the MASCOT lander developed by the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and the French space agency (CNES).

The spacecraft is the successor of JAXA’s Hayabusa, which landed on the asteroid Itokawa in November 2005. Despite the fact that, haunted with problems, the mission collected a number of asteroid samples, which returned to Earth with a Hayabusa in June 2010.

NASA is also on a mission to retrieve an asteroid sample. The space agency’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will be launched on Sept. 8, 2016, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on a trip to the near-Earth asteroid Bennu. OSIRIS-Rex is expected to arrive at Bennu on Dec. 3, 2018, and to start a research to the space rock.

The spacecraft will be the asteroid sample to Earth in 2023.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers

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