Beneath their desolate surfaces, asteroids are believed to contain a rich treasure-trove of information about the formation of the solar system billions of years ago. While they contain scientific instruments including cameras, thermometers, and accelerometers, one goal of the rovers (which use torque generated by rotating internal components instead of wheels) is simply to act as a proof of concept for low-gravity environmental exploration.
The rovers are fitted with seven cameras and will take stereo images of the asteroid's surface and are also equipped with temperature gauges, optical sensors, an accelerometer and a set of gyroscopes.
It marks the first time mobile robots have successfully landed on an asteroid, and it's a major milestone for Hayabusa2, an unmanned exploration mission launched in December 2014.
After launching MASCOT, the Hayabusa2 will descend close to the surface of Ryugu, where it will collect surface samples from the asteroid using a device called a "sampling horn".
An artist's illustration of Rover-1A (back) and Rover-1B (foreground) from MINERVA-II1 as they explore the surface of Ryugu.
The probe will then collect fresh materials from inside the crater which have not been exposed to wind and radiation. By the end of next year, the spacecraft is expected to begin its return journey to Earth with a cache of samples collected from Ryugu.
"I felt awed by what we had achieved in Japan. This is just a real charm of deep space exploration", said Takashi Kubota, a spokesman for the space agency.
A previous Hayabusa mission was considered only partially successful due to technical glitches that hampered collection efforts.