27. June 2018

On the trail of a near-Earth as­ter­oid – the Hayabusa2 space­craft and MAS­COT lan­der reach Ryugu

Asteroid Ryugu imaged from a distance of approximately 22 kilometres
As­ter­oid Ryugu im­aged from a dis­tance of ap­prox­i­mate­ly 22 kilo­me­tres
Image 1/7, 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.
Hayabusa2 spacecraft with ion engines
Hayabusa2 space­craft with ion en­gines
Image 2/7, 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.
Images of the asteroid Ryugu during the approach
Im­ages of the as­ter­oid Ryugu dur­ing the ap­proach
Image 3/7, Credit: JAXA, University of Tokyo & collaborators.

Images of the asteroid Ryugu during the approach

Im­ages of the as­ter­oid Ryugu ac­quired be­tween 18 and 20 June 2018 by the Japanese Op­ti­cal Nav­i­ga­tion Cam­era – Tele­scop­ic (ONC-T) on board Hayabusa2, dur­ing the space­craft’s ap­proach. Among oth­er things, a large rock with a di­am­e­ter of ap­prox­i­mate­ly 150 me­tres can be seen pro­trud­ing from the up­per part of Ryugu. This is clear­ly vis­i­ble be­cause part of the sur­face is more re­flec­tive. This could in­di­cate dif­fer­ences in the com­po­si­tion of the sur­face ma­te­ri­al. 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.
Hayabusa2 approaching asteroid Ryugu
Hayabusa2 ap­proach­ing as­ter­oid Ryugu
Image 4/7, Credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0)

Hayabusa2 approaching asteroid Ryugu

The or­bit of as­ter­oid Ryugu lies most­ly be­tween the or­bits of Earth and Mars.
MASCOT asteroid lander on board the Hayabusa2 spacecraft
MAS­COT as­ter­oid lan­der on board the Hayabusa2 space­craft
Image 5/7, 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.
MASCOT asteroid lander
MAS­COT as­ter­oid lan­der
Image 6/7, Credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0)

MASCOT asteroid lander

A to­tal of four in­stru­ments are in­stalled with­in the 30 × 30 × 20-cen­time­tre lan­der. A DLR ra­diome­ter and cam­era, to­geth­er with a spec­trom­e­ter from the In­sti­tut d’As­tro­physique Spa­tiale and a mag­ne­tome­ter from Tech­ni­cal Uni­ver­si­ty Braun­schweig are set to ex­am­ine the min­er­alog­i­cal com­po­si­tion and ge­o­log­i­cal prop­er­ties of the as­ter­oid’s sur­face and mea­sure its sur­face tem­per­a­ture and mag­net­ic field. MAS­COT’s swing arm will pro­vide it with the ki­net­ic en­er­gy re­quired to per­form its ma­noeu­vres on the sur­face.
Asteroid Ryugu imaged from a distance of approximately 40 kilometres
As­ter­oid Ryugu im­aged from a dis­tance of ap­prox­i­mate­ly 40 kilo­me­tres
Image 7/7, Credit: JAXA, University of Tokyo & collaborators.

Asteroid Ryugu imaged from a distance of approximately 40 kilometres

As­ter­oid Ryugu im­aged from a dis­tance of 40 kilo­me­tres on 24 June 2018, dur­ing the ap­proach of the Hayabusa2 space­craft. The im­age was ac­quired by the ‘Op­ti­cal Nav­i­ga­tion Cam­era – Tele­scop­ic’ (ONC-T) on board Hayabusa2. The im­age shows a par­tic­u­lar­ly large crater near the equa­tor and the un­usu­al an­gu­lar shape of the as­ter­oid. 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.

  • Arrival at a distance of 20 kilometres to the asteroid Ryugu
  • Angular form of Ryugu surprises researchers
  • Asteroid landing with MASCOT planned for early October
  • Focus: Aerospace, exploration, robotics

The Japanese Hayabusa2 spacecraft has made a 3200-million-kilometre journey with the German-French Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout (MASCOT) lander on board. The two spacecraft have been travelling through the Solar System since December 2014, culminating in an approach manoeuvre to the near-Earth asteroid that has lasted several weeks and was completed on 27 June 2018. This was con­firmed by the Japanese space agen­cy (Japan Aerospace Ex­plo­ration Agen­cy; JAXA) today. Hayabusa2 is now flying alongside Ryugu at a distance of 20 kilometres, acquiring images and data while the celestial body rotates about its axis. MASCOT is scheduled to land on the asteroid in early October. In a world first, the lander will travel across the surface in a hopping motion, allowing it to conduct measurements at multiple locations. Researchers are hoping to get a better insight into the properties and structure of near-Earth asteroids in order to understand these very old remnants of the formation of the Solar System. This will offer insights into the formation of the planets and enable more effective planning of possible asteroid defence missions. It is also planned that the mother craft – Hayabusa2 – will return to Earth in 2020, bringing with it samples from the asteroid.

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Animation: Asteroidlander MASCOT on board Hayabusa2  
Video "Animation: Asteroidlander MASCOT on board Hayabusa2"
Credit: DLR

"As far as we are concerned, Ryugu is an ideal test object for us, as it is only 900 metres in diameter and there are many members of the same asteroid class in near Earth orbits," says Ralf Jaumann of the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) To the In­sti­tute's web­site in Berlin. "Its unusual, angular shape, revealed in the latest images, is exciting." In addition, craters and large boulders can be discerned on the surface. Tra-Mi Ho, the MASCOT Project Leader at the DLR Institute of Space Systems in Bremen, adds: "The scientifically surprising shape of Ryugu and its many craters will make the selection of a suitable landing site for MASCOT both fascinating and challenging." MASCOT will provide completely new insights into the material that made up the solar nebula, which has been resting on the surface of the asteroid for around 4.5 billion years.

'Hop' around on an asteroid

According to current plans, MASCOT will be released from its mother craft in early October and, upon landing, will 'hop' around on Ryugu, conducting measurements for at least 16 hours. MASCOT can hop up to a distance of 70 metres, allowing it to take measurements at several different locations on the asteroid – a first for international unmanned spaceflight. A total of four instruments are installed within the 30 × 30 × 20-centimetre lander. A DLR radiometer and camera, together with a spectrometer from the Institut d'Astrophysique Spatiale and a magnetometer from Tech­ni­cal Uni­ver­si­ty Braun­schweig are set to examine the mineralogical composition and geological properties of the asteroid's surface and measure its surface temperature and magnetic field. MASCOT's swing arm will provide it with the kinetic energy required to perform its manoeuvres on the surface.

The Ryugu asteroid and Hayabusa2 (Japanese for peregrine falcon) are currently around 280 million kilometres from Earth, so a signal from Earth takes approximately 15 minutes to reach the spacecraft. The lat­est im­ages ac­quit­ted by the Japanese Op­ti­cal Nav­i­ga­tion Cam­era – Tele­scop­ic (ONC-T) show that Ryugu has a very unusual shape. Scientists do not expect the asteroid's gravitational forces to always be directed towards its centre. The asteroid's gravitational field is estimated to be approximately 60,000 times weaker than that of Earth. Ryugu, which is named after a submerged castle from Japanese mythology, rotates about an axis perpendicular to its orbital motion.

Boulders in Earth’s cosmic neighbourhood

Today, more than 750,000 asteroids are known. Only a small proportion of these – around 17,000 – travel on elliptical orbits that reach deep into the inner Solar System, crossing the orbits of Mars, Earth and even Mercury. Approximately 1000 of these are near-Earth asteroids with a diameter of more than one kilometre. On 3 December 2014 the Hayabusa2 mission launched from the Japanese Tanegashima Space Center with the German-French MASCOT lander on board, with the aim of obtaining new insights into the structure and composition of the primitive and carbon-rich asteroid Ryugu (162173), which crosses Earth's orbit. Scientifically, the focus is on discovering the role played by asteroids in the formation and early development of Earth and the terrestrial planets. One area of investigation is determining whether some of the water on Earth could have come from asteroids; another is examining the structural characteristics of a potentially threatening, Earth-crossing asteroid, with a view to developing defensive capabilities. At present, however, no asteroid is known to be on a collision course with Earth.

Hayabusa2 will be observing Ryugu from close proximity for one-and-a-half years. The highlights of the mission will be the landing of MASCOT and other microlanders, and the two or three samples acquired when Hayabusa2 descends to the asteroid surface. The samples will be returned to Earth on board Hayabusa2 in 2020.

About the Hayabusa2 and MASCOT mission

Hayabusa2 is a JAXA - GLOB­AL mission to the near-Earth asteroid Ryugu. The German-French lander MASCOT on board Hayabusa2 was developed by the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) and built in close cooperation with the French space agen­cy (Cen­tre Na­tion­al d'Etudes Spa­tiales; CNES). DLR, the Institut d'Astrophysique Spatiale and Technical University Braunschweig have contributed the scientific experiments on board MASCOT. Operation and control of the MASCOT lander and its experiments is carried out by DLR with the support of CNES and in constant interaction with JAXA.

The DLR Institute of Space Systems in Bremen was responsible for developing and testing the MASCOT lander in cooperation with CNES. The DLR Institute of Composite Structures and Adaptive Systems in Braunschweig was responsible for the lander's stable mechanical structure. The DLR Robotics and Mechatronics Center developed the swing arm that will allow MASCOT to 'hop' across the asteroid. The DLR Institute of Planetary Research contributed the MasCam camera and the MARA radiometer. The asteroid lander is monitored and operated from the MASCOT control centre in the Microgravity User Support Center (MUSC) at the DLR site in Cologne.

Click for more images Flickr DLR.

Contact
  • Falk Dambowsky
    Ed­i­tor
    Ger­man Aerospace Cen­ter (DLR)
    Me­dia Re­la­tions
    Telephone: +49 2203 601-3959
    Fax: +49 2203 601-3249
    Linder Höhe
    51147 Cologne
    Contact
  • Tra-Mi Ho
    Ger­man Aerospace Cen­ter (DLR)
    In­sti­tute of Space Sys­tems
    Telephone: +49 421 24420-1171
    Robert-Hooke-Straße 7
    28359 Bremen
    Contact
  • 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
    Contact
  • Christian Krause
    Ger­man Aerospace Cen­ter (DLR)

    Mi­cro­grav­i­ty Us­er Sup­port Cen­ter (MUSC), Space Op­er­a­tions and As­tro­naut Train­ing
    Telephone: +49 2203 601-3048
    Linder Höhe
    51147 Köln
    Contact
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