MASCOT – Just hours before separation
About 7 years ago, when the MASCOT lander took its 'first steps' in the form of a CAD drawing was – at least for some of us – an unimaginable moment. Today, we are in the control room, following the slow descent of the Hayabusa2 spacecraft carrying our small landing package through the returned housekeeping data. We are ready to go.##markend##
Now, we sit here at the Microgravity User Support Center (MUSC) Now, we sit here at the Microgravity User Support Center (MUSC) in Cologne, deliberately close to each other. It is very calm. At the main desk is the Operations Manager, next to him the DLR and CNES subsystem experts at their desks: System Engineering, Power, Thermal, Communications, On-board Computer, Ground Segment. They all look at their screen and follow the returned housekeeping data sent 'home' by MASCOT. Each of them wears a headset to be able to continuously interact with the two MSC colleagues stationed as liaisons at Sagamihara, 9350 kilometres away. Because that is where JAXA's control centre is, and from where the HY2 spaceship is controlled and the outgoing commands and incoming data are processed.
This is where the HY2 team is at, and for a few weeks, they also have two 'mascots'. They represent the MASCOT project on site, validate the data exchange, pass on our requests and answers to the HY2 team, and sometimes report on the mood or weather conditions there. This also includes feedback like: "They are talking about MSC right now. At least that's what I suspect since they speak Japanese ...." "I have never seen so much rain in my life!"
Yes, that was something. Just days before the landing, the weather put a spoke in our wheel. Super typhoon TRAMI appeared about one week ago, and for the last two days has swept across Japan, with record winds and rain. In addition to the impact on the Japanese infrastructure, such as the power supply, bus, rail and air transport, communications with HY2 using the USADA antenna were also heavily affected. For this reason, the MSC and HY2 team had to postpone the final preparations for the landing and switch to the United States (Goldstone) or Australian (Canberra) antenna.
But we've managed this as well, sent the last commands and parameters and prepared MASCOT for the upcoming adventure. Now all we can do is 'wait' ... wait for the data telling us that everything is nominal 'above', so we can give our ‘Go’ for the next step until the point of separation. Until then, the adjoining room will be filled with other experts on mobility, attitude control, the scientific teams of the four instruments (MASCAM, MMEGA, MASMAG and MARA) and Japanese liaisons. All in anticipation of how our little lander now takes his first steps on the asteroid Ryugu. We will certainly be cheering, encouraging and praising it. But we must also 'let him go' so that he can follow his own path.
For the latest information about the Hayabusa2/MASCOT separation and landing on asteroid Ryugu follow @MASCOT2018 on Twitter.