Japan space rovers lowered to asteroid to collect data

A Japanese spacecraft is just hours away from a historic attempt to land two tiny hopping robots on the big asteroid Ryugu, and you can see near real-time photos of the spaceflight action.

Though the Hayabusa2 team calls them rovers, these little guys will hop rather than roll from place to place on Ryugu's surface, gathering a variety of data along the way.

Two of the the mission's four rovers will be deployed from the Hayabusa-2, touching down on the asteroid Friday. The spacecraft arrived near the asteroid, about 280 million kilometers (170 million miles) from Earth, in June.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said the two Minerva-II-1 rovers were lowered from the unmanned spacecraft Hayabusa2 to the asteroid Ryugu.

Hayabusa approached as close as 55 meters (180 feet) to the asteroid to lower the rovers, waited for a minute and then rose back to its waiting position about 20 kilometers (12 miles) above the surface. The robots move by hopping because extremely weak gravity makes rolling hard.

The asteroid is believed to contain organic substances and hydrated minerals, and the agency hopes the readings will help find out more about the origin and evolution of the solar system.

The spacecraft plans to release the Minerva-II 2 explorer, developed by institutes such as Tohoku University, next year.

The explorer was launched at the Tanegashima Space Centre in southern Japan in December 2014.

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