"JAXA’s Asteroid Sampler Hayabusa-II approaches its target asteroid 1999 JU3 and delivers successfully the DLR Landing Package MASCOT. These first-ever In-Situ Measurements will greatly help in the understanding of the processes involved in the formation of the early solar system.”
In only a few years from now, scientific and public news articles could be making these and similar statements. As defined through the "Global Exploration Roadmap", the corner stones in the international space exploration endeavour are the search for the origins of life, increasing the Earths safety against possible meteor impacts, and the development of technologies to sustain the presence of humans in space for extended periods of time. Motivated by this, objects in the close vicinity of Earth are highly desirable targets, able to produce, in a relatively short period, valuable scientific output.
The Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout (MASCOT) is a small landing package onboard the Japanese space probe Hayabusa-II, built by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and scheduled to be launched in late 2014, on a 5-year sample return mission to the Near-Earth Asteroid 1999 JU3. Hayabusa-II is the successor of the first asteroid sample return mission Hayabusa which returned to Earth in June 2010. It is not easy to follow up the great success of the Hayabusa mission, which has been well documented in scientific papers, the press and movies. But with the successful delivery of a dedicated landing package, it will be possible to conduct the first ever in-situ measurements on an asteroid, an object wich has changed little over the last 4.5 billion years. In performing this task, MASCOT takes up a key role in this humble, yet ambitious attempt to enhance the understanding of the formation of our solar system and may also give clues to how life on Earth has evolved. Its primary objectives are the following:
Perform comprehensive stand-alone study on different landing sites on the C-type target asteroid
Provide cross-scale link between mother spacecraft data and returned sample analyses by in-situ surface information,
Serve as "surface scout" to support sampling site selection of Hayabusa-II.
The development of MASCOT is led by the DLR Institute of Space Systems in Bremen and is joined by the French space agency (CNES) which contributes the Power and Communication subsystem and collaborates also in the payload development. The project is intensively supported with specialized expertise from the DLR Institutes of Composite Structures and Adaptive Systems in Braunschweig, Robotics and Mechatronics in Oberpfaffenhofen, Astronaut Training and Operations in Cologne, and Planetary Research in Berlin.
MASCOT is characterized by a highly integrated structural approach. The ratio of payload mass to total landed mass is >0.35. The four integrated instruments, namely the Wide Angle Camera, Radiometer, Magnetometer (TU Braunschweig) and Infrared Microscope (CNES) will take detailed close-up images, and make a variety of in-situ measurements. A prominent characteristic of MASCOT is that it can re-locate using an internal hopping mechanism with an eccentric tappet concept to increase its investigation area. The operational scenario of MASCOT foresees a minimum of two hopping and up-righting manoeuvres within its 16 hours operational lifetime (two full asteroid day/night cycles). Due to this short time frame, all nominal surface operations will be conducted completely autonomously without any ground intervention.
MASCOT is a pioneering project for the Institute of Space Systems in Bremen. Parts of its subsystems will take advantage of technological heritage of the Rosetta comet lander Philae, but additional new technologies have been developed, which will have the chance to prove their ability for the first time on a real space flight mission. MASCOT was confirmed as an official payload of Hayabusa-II on March 16, 2012. At present, the subsystems of MASCOT are completing breadboard activities in preparation for PDR, after which Phase C design will be undertaken in order to meet the increased verification tests, primarily to be conducted in Bremen, to qualify the system to flight level status. A summary of the project milestones already performed, as well as the current status, can be found here soon.