After three hops in three days, the little MASCOT lander has completed its short but important mission on asteroid Ryugu. But not before sending heaps of data to the Hayabusa-2 spacecraft to be shortly analyzed by scientists. MASCOT, which stands for Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout, exceeded even the expectations of the French-German team that constructed it, lasting longer than planned.
The lander was designed to last for 16 hours after separation from the Japanese mothercraft, but it lasted more than 17 hours in the end. This allowed the researchers to make it hop to three different locations on the asteroid, collecting important data on the composition and nature of the asteroid’s surface.
"With MASCOT, it has been possible to, for the first time, explore the surface of an asteroid directly on site so extensively," Hansjörg Dittus, German Space Center (DLR) Executive Board Member for Space Research and Technology, said in a statement. "A mission like this can only be done working in close cooperation with international partners – bringing together all their expertise and commitment."
The lander reached the surface of the asteroid on the early morning of October 3. It landed in an unfavorable position so the team used its mechanical arm to make it hop to a better one. It collected data for a full asteroid day (about 7 hours) and then hopped to a nearby location where it continued its primary mission. In particular, it snapped pictures that will be used in creating stereoscopic views of the asteroid. At the end of that, the team realized that MASCOT had enough juice left to attempt a more daring maneuver and they made it jump further, where it continue to study the asteroid.
"The evaluation of the valuable data has just begun," says MASCOT project manager Tra-Mi Ho from the DLR Institute of Space Systems. "We will learn a lot about the past of the Solar System and the importance of near-Earth asteroids like Ryugu. Today, I look forward to the scientific publications that will result from MASCOT and the remarkable Hayabusa-2 mission of our Japanese partners. "
While MASCOT had a non-rechargeable battery, the other two asteroid explorers deployed by Hayabusa-2 are solar-powered and they continue their investigation of this primordial inhabitant of the Solar System.