The Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa-2 has safely landed yet another probe on the surface of an asteroid, the third in about 10 days.
This lander is called the Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout (MASCOT), and was developed by the German Space Center (DLR). It was released from Hayabusa-2 yesterday, and touched down on the asteroid Ryugu, 280 million kilometers (175 million miles) from Earth, earlier today.
“And then I found myself in a place like no place on Earth. A land full of wonder, mystery and danger!” the probe’s team wrote on Twitter. “I landed on asteroid Ryugu!”
MASCOT, liked the MINERVA-II1 probes that preceded it, is designed to hop across the surface of Ryugu to take measurements in different locations. It will do this by moving an arm with a motor, the momentum of which will cause MASCOT to jump in the low-gravity environment of the asteroid.
The rover is a rigid box shape, measuring about 30 centimeters (12 inches) long on its longest side and weighing about 10 kilograms (22 pounds). It is powered by a non-rechargeable battery, so its life will be short-lived – it will collect measurements for just 16 hours.
It will hop just once on the mission, unlike the MINERVA-II1 rovers, which can move multiple times and are solar powered to operate longer on the surface. After landing the team said MASCOT had already taken 20 images with an onboard camera, which will be transmitted back to Hayabusa-2 and sent back to Earth in a couple of days.
"The camera worked perfectly," Ralf Jaumann, DLR planetary scientist and scientific director of the camera instrument, said in a statement. "The team's first images of the camera are therefore safe."
MASCOT has three other instruments on board, which will be used to study the asteroid. These are an infrared microscope to study the ground, a magnetometer to hunt for signs of a magnetic field, and a radiometer to measure the surface temperature.
The goal of this mission, and the overall Hayabusa-2 mission, is to learn more about the origins of our Solar System. By studying Ryugu, it’s hoped we can get a better handle on how objects like this populated the early Solar System.
MASCOT has another role to play in this, too. By studying the surface, it will help mission scientists decide where to deploy an impactor from Hayabusa-2, creating an artificial crater. Next year, the spacecraft will swoop down and gather material from this crater, returning it to Earth along with other samples in 2020.
Hayabusa-2 has one more lander to send to the surface, dubbed Rover 2, which be deployed in 2019. This latest landing of MASCOT is another huge accomplishment for the mission, but there are plenty more exciting moments to come.