The Hayabusa2 mis­sion – in­ves­ti­gat­ing a near-Earth as­ter­oid

MASCOT launches from the Tanegashima Space Center
MAS­COT launch­es from the Tane­gashima Space Cen­ter
Image 1/6, Credit: MHI Global

MASCOT launches from the Tanegashima Space Center

On 3 De­cem­ber 2014 at 05:22 CEST, an H IIA launch ve­hi­cle lift­ed off from the Tane­gashima Space Cen­ter and the Japanese Hayabusa 2 space­craft and its MAS­COT lan­der, de­vel­oped by DLR, be­gan their jour­ney to As­ter­oid 1999 JU3.
Embarking on a journey
Em­bark­ing on a jour­ney
Image 2/6, Credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0)

Embarking on a journey

On 3 De­cem­ber 2014 the Hayabusa2 space­craft and its MAS­COT lan­der be­gan their jour­ney to as­ter­oid Ryugu.
Hayabusa2 spacecraft with ion engines
Hayabusa2 space­craft with ion en­gines
Image 3/6, Credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0)

Hayabusa2 spacecraft with ion engines

The Japanese Hayabusa2 space­craft with the Ger­man-French Mo­bile As­ter­oid Sur­face Scout (MAS­COT) lan­der on board has com­plet­ed its 3200-mil­lion-kilo­me­tre jour­ney to as­ter­oid Ryugu.
Asteroid Ryugu imaged from a distance of approximately 22 kilometres
As­ter­oid Ryugu im­aged from a dis­tance of ap­prox­i­mate­ly 22 kilo­me­tres
Image 4/6, Credit: JAXA, University of Tokyo, Kochi University, Rikkyo University, Nagoya University, Chiba Institute of Technology, Meiji University, Aizu University, AIST.

Asteroid Ryugu imaged from a distance of approximately 22 kilometres

On 26 June 2018, the Japanese Op­ti­cal Nav­i­ga­tion Cam­era – Tele­scop­ic (ONC-T) on board Hayabusa2 im­aged the as­ter­oid Ryugu from a dis­tance of ap­prox­i­mate­ly 22 kilo­me­tres, short­ly be­fore it ar­rived. The ONC was de­vel­oped and built un­der the lead­er­ship of JAXA in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Uni­ver­si­ty of Tokyo, Kochi Uni­ver­si­ty, Rikkyo Uni­ver­si­ty, Nagoya Uni­ver­si­ty, Chi­ba In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­o­gy, Mei­ji Uni­ver­si­ty, Aizu Uni­ver­si­ty and the Na­tion­al In­sti­tute of Ad­vanced In­dus­tri­al Sci­ence and Tech­nol­o­gy (AIST) with con­tract­ed con­tri­bu­tions from the com­pa­ny NEC.
MASCOT asteroid lander on board the Hayabusa2 spacecraft
MAS­COT as­ter­oid lan­der on board the Hayabusa2 space­craft
Image 5/6, Credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0)

MASCOT asteroid lander on board the Hayabusa2 spacecraft

The Japanese Hayabusa2 space­craft with the Ger­man-French Mo­bile As­ter­oid Sur­face Scout (MAS­COT) lan­der on board has com­plet­ed its 3200-mil­lion-kilo­me­tre jour­ney to as­ter­oid Ryugu.
Asteroid lander MASCOT
As­ter­oid lan­der MAS­COT
Image 6/6, Credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0)

Asteroid lander MASCOT

A to­tal of four in­stru­ments are in­stalled with­in the 30 x 30 x 20-cen­time­tre lan­der. A DLR ra­diome­ter and cam­era, to­geth­er with a spec­trom­e­ter from the In­sti­tut d'As­tro­physique Spa­tiale and a mag­ne­tome­ter from the TU Braun­schweig, are set to ex­am­ine the min­er­alog­i­cal and ge­o­log­i­cal com­po­si­tion of the as­ter­oid’s sur­face and gauge its sur­face tem­per­a­ture as well as the as­ter­oid’s mag­net­ic field. A built-in swing arm gives MAS­COT the re­quired propul­sion to make jump­ing ma­noeu­vres over the sur­face.

On 3 December 2014, the Japanese space probe Hayabusa2 embarked on a sample return mission to the C-type asteroid (162173) Ryugu (formerly designated 1999 JU3). It is operated by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and carried the MASCOT (Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout) lander built by the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in collaboration with the French Space Agency (CNES) and the Japanese space agency (JAXA). Hayabusa2 is the immediate follow-on mission of the Hayabusa mission, which saw the first probe return to Earth with samples taken from asteroid Itokawa in June 2010. At that time, the DLR Institute of Planetary Research also investigated the rare particles.

The aim of the Hayabusa2 mission is to learn more about the origin and evolution of the Solar System. Like comets, asteroids are some of the most primordial celestial bodies. Researching asteroids gives us a glimpse into our cosmic past. Near-Earth Objects (NEOs), such as Ryugu, also pose a potential threat to Earth and therefore need to be investigated to learn about and reduce their threat.

This unique mission involves:

  • observation and mapping the asteroid from a distance,
  • providing measurements of the asteroid,
  • depositing the first measurement laboratory (MASCOT) capable of moving on an asteroid,
  • conducting on-site experiments and reference measurements at multiple locations, and
  • returning samples of the asteroid to Earth.

Hayabusa2 and MASCOT worked together as a team: Hayabusa2 provided the necessary data so that a suitable landing place could be found for MASCOT, whereas MASCOT carried out experiments on the asteroid's surface and provided data on materials and the surrounding area to find a location to gather soil samples. For this, Hayabusa2 will lightly touch the asteroid's surface in order to gather material, which it will then bring back to Earth.

Big challenges for a small lander

The low gravitational force of the asteroid, which amounts to just one 60,000th of the gravitational force on Earth, presented a challenge for the mission. This force is insufficient to 'pull' the lander out of the Hayabusa probe. As such, MASCOT was pushed out of its holder by a spring mechanism and fell to Ryugu from a height of approximately 60 metres. Had this happened too quickly, then MASCOT could have bounced off the asteroid's surface. The lander's 'hopping' on the asteroid from site to site was programmed from start to finish so that it did not reach escape velocity. The escape velocity from Ryugu is calculated to be 38 centimetres per second. By way of comparison, the escape velocity from Earth is 11.2 kilometres per second, and that from the Moon is 2.3 kilometres per second.

The mineralogical and geological composition of the asteroid’s surface and its surface temperature and magnetic field were investigated with a radiometer and a camera developed by DLR, as well as a spectrometer of the Institut d'Astrophysique Spatiale and a magnetometer by TU Braunschweig.

The duo reached Ryugu on 27 June 2018. On 3 October 2018 at 03:58 (CEST) MASCOT separated from the Japanese Hayabusa2 spacecraft, and landed and made contact wit Ryugu approximately 20 minutes later. MASCOT was operational for over 17 hours, during which it collected data from the asteroid's surface. Hayabusa2 will return samples to Earth in 2020.

DLR participation in the Hayabusa2 mission

The DLR Institute of Space Systems, based in Bremen, together with CNES (Centre national d'études spatiales), designed, manufactured and tested the lander in the Institute's laboratories under space conditions, for example on a shaker, in the thermal vacuum chamber and during parabolic flights in the drop tower at the Centre of Applied Space Technology and Microgravity (ZARM). The DLR Institute of Composite Structures and Adaptive Systems in Braunschweig was responsible for the lander's stable structure. The DLR Robotics and Mechatronics Center in Oberpfaffenhofen developed the arm that allows MASCOT to ‘hop’ on the asteroid. The DLR Institute of Planetary Research in Berlin contributed to the MASCAM camera and the MARA radiometer. The MASCOT lander will be monitored and operated from the DLR control centre at the Microgravity User Support Center (MUSC) in Cologne.

CNES contributed the power subsystem to MASCOT, as well as a part of the telecommunications system, which included the development of antennas, and the agency will assume responsibility for the descent and landing mission analyses.

  • Elke Heinemann
    Ger­man Aerospace Cen­ter (DLR)
    Pub­lic Af­fairs and Com­mu­ni­ca­tions
    Telephone: +49 2203 601-2867
    Fax: +49 2203 601-3249

  • Tra-Mi Ho
    Ger­man Aerospace Cen­ter (DLR)
    In­sti­tute of Space Sys­tems
    Telephone: +49 421 24420-1171
    Robert-Hooke-Straße 7
    28359 Bremen
  • Prof.Dr. Ralf Jaumann
    Freie Uni­ver­sität Berlin
    In­sti­tute of Ge­o­log­i­cal Sci­ences
    Plan­e­tary Sci­ences and Re­mote Sens­ing
    Telephone: +49-172-2355864
    Malteserstr. 74-100
    12249 Berlin
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