A Japanese asteroid-sampling probe is about to get up close and personal with its target space rock.
The Hayabusa2 spacecraft will drop two tiny rovers onto the asteroid Ryugu this week, possibly as early as Thursday (Sept. 20), if all goes according to plan.
The Hayabusa2 team began prepping seriously for the epic maneuver last week. The current schedule calls for the mother ship to descend toward Ryugu today (Sept. 19) and for the two little disk-shaped robots, known as MINERVA-II1A and MINERVA-II1B, to deploy as early as tomorrow, U.S. time. (Officials with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, have cited Sept. 20 and Sept. 21 for these events, but that’s apparently on Japan time, which is 13 hours ahead of U.S. Eastern Daylight Time.)
Each MINERVA-II rover measures 7 inches wide by 2.8 inches tall (18 by 7 centimeters), with a mass of about 2.4 lbs. (1.1 kilogram). And they won’t “rove” in the traditional sense; instead of rolling along on wheels like a Mars or moon explorer, the duo will hop from place to place on Ryugu.
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