Ryugu and other asteroids of the common ‘C-class’ consist of more porous material than was previously thought. Small fragments of their material are therefore too fragile to survive entry into the atmosphere in the event of a collision with Earth. This has revealed the long-suspected cause of the deficit of this meteorite type in finds on Earth.
Six minutes of free fall, a gentle impact on the asteroid and then 11 minutes of rebounding until coming to rest. That is how, in the early hours of 3 October 2018, the journey of the MASCOT asteroid lander began on Asteroid Ryugu – a land full of wonder, mystery and challenges.
It was a day full of exciting moments and a happy team of scientists and engineers: late in the afternoon of 3 October 2018, the German-French lander MASCOT completed its historic exploration of the surface of the asteroid Ryugu at 21:04 CEST, as its battery ran out. On-asteroid operations were originally scheduled to last 16 hours after separation from the Japanese mothercraft Hayabusa2.
The near-Earth asteroid Ryugu, located approximately 300 million kilometres from Earth, has a new inhabitant: On 3 October 2018, the Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout (MASCOT) landed on the asteroid and began to work. The lander successfully separated from the Japanese Hayabusa2 space probe at 03:58 CEST.
If everything goes according to plan, the moment will finally come on 3 October 2018. Early in the morning, at 03:58:15 CEST, the asteroid lander MASCOT will separate from the Hayabusa2 space probe and land on the surface of Ryugu a few minutes later. From the first moment of contact with the surface, this will be a journey into the unknown, as MASCOT could come to rest almost anywhere within a radius of about 200 metres from the point of touchdown, after bouncing a few times.
Not too hot and not too cold. Not too many boulders, nor too few. Easily accessible and scientifically exciting. Meeting the requirements that the Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout (MASCOT) team had for the landing site on the asteroid Ryugu was no easy task. "However, we have now decided on an almost perfect landing site," says Ralf Jaumann from the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) Institute of Planetary Research, who is Principal Investigator of the MASCOT landing probe and responsible for the lander's MasCam camera experiment.
In early October 2018, the Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout (MASCOT) lander is expected to be in operation for approximately 16 hours on the Ryugu asteroid. The selection of the landing site will take place this August. The ideal site must firstly offer the MASCOT team engineers excellent conditions for a safe landing and stable operation on the asteroid, while providing the researchers with a wealth of new and productive measurements.
Scientists and engineers have been waiting nearly four years for the Japanese Hayabusa2 spacecraft – which is carrying the Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout (MASCOT) lander that was developed and constructed by the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) – to reach its destination: the asteroid Ryugu.
As the Japanese Hayabusa2 spacecraft closes in on asteroid Ryugu, more details become visible to the planetary scientists. On 20 July 2018, from a distance of just six kilometres, the spacecraft’s Optical Navigation Camera - Telescopic (ONC-T) acquired an image of the asteroid’s surface, with its largest crater. "We see that the entire surface of Ryugu is strewn with large boulders – we have not yet seen this on an asteroid," says Ralf Jaumann, a planetary scientist at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and Principal Investigator for the MASCOT (Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout) lander aboard the Japanese spacecraft. It is anticipated that on 3 October 2018, MASCOT will land on Ryugu and examine the asteroid surface using four instruments.
Starting on 10 July 2018, the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) will be staging a newly designed exhibition on the current Hayabusa2 and MASCOT mission in the Untere Rathaushalle (ground floor) of Bremen's town hall. The Japanese space probe Hayabusa2 recently reached the near-Earth asteroid Ryugu on 27 June 2018.
On 6 July 2018 at 03:15 CEST (01:15 UTC), it was time. The team at the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) MASCOT Control Center in Cologne received the first signals from the German-French asteroid lander MASCOT upon its arrival at the near-Earth asteroid Ryugu.
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.
Space travel is no easy task – first comes the stressful launch with vibrations, then the long flight through the bitter cold and the vacuum. The Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout (MASCOT) has been travelling on board the Japanese Hayabusa2 spacecraft for the last one-and-a-half years, and is currently at approximately 65 million kilometres from Earth.
Philae landed on a comet just three weeks ago; now, another German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) lander mission has been launched – the Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout (MASCOT) is already on its way to Asteroid 1999 JU3.
Originally scheduled for launch at 05:24 CET on 30 November 2014, the MASCOT asteroid lander will now set off from Tanegashima Space Center on board the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) orbiter Hayabusa 2 no earlier than 1 December, destined for asteroid 1999 JU3.