The tiny Minerva-II2 probe is now en route to the surface of the asteroid Ryugu, having been deployed by Japan’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft on Thursday. It’s the final phase of this wildly successful mission and the last item on the to-do list before the spacecraft makes its journey back to Earth.
On October 3, 2018, the Hayabusa2 spacecraft dropped a lander toward the surface of the asteroid Ryugu from 40 metres up. The lander, MASCOT, hit a boulder, bounced backward, and tumbled 17 metres along the asteroid’s surface before coming to rest upside down in a hole.
Japan’s Hayabusa2 probe aborted an attempt to drop a highly reflective target marker on the surface of Ryugu in preparation for its second sample extraction mission. But with surface temperatures rising steadily on the asteroid, the probe is running out of time.