TOKYO -- The Hayabusa 2 spacecraft has sent two small robotic probes toward the asteroid Ryugu, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) announced on Sept. 21.
The probes -- which can jump to move around -- will investigate the asteroid's surface by taking pictures and using other instruments. If they land successfully, they will become the first ever mobile robots to conduct observations on an asteroid.
According to JAXA mission managers, the agency confirmed at 1:35 p.m. on Sept. 21 that the two had been released by Hayabusa 2. Both of them are shaped like cylinders -- 18 centimeters in diameter and 7 centimeters in height -- and weigh about 1 kilogram. Their jumps are enabled by internal motors triggered by light and temperature conditions.
A similar probe was on the first Hayabusa mission to the asteroid Itokawa, but it never landed because it detached while the spacecraft was ascending.
(Japanese original by Tomohiro Ikeda, Science News Department)