The Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) has revealed images from its third rover on the asteroid Ryugu as part of its Hayabusa-2 mission.
But in that short time it was able to collect data on the surface, including studying the asteroid’s magnetic field and composition, which was sent back to the Hayabusa-2 mothership. And it also managed to snap some images on the surface, which have now been released.
“I hit the bull's eye!” the MASCOT team said in one tweet which showcased the landing site of the rover. “My descent to Ryugu was rather straight, don't you think? I made it to my planned landing site 'Alice's Wonderland'. Not too bad for a rookie!”
The rover also returned images of the asteroid’s south pole, and numerous boulders across its surface. A later image seemingly taken from the surface showed the asteroid closer-up, with rubbles and pebbles strewn across the ground.
MASCOT succeeded the two MINERVA-II1 landers, which touched down on the surface on Friday, September 21. Like those two it was designed to hop across the surface, moving an arm to give it some momentum and propel it off the surface in the asteroid’s low-gravity environment.
MASCOT had a rigid box shape, measuring about 30 centimeters (12 inches) long on its longest side and weighing about 10 kilograms (22 pounds). But as it was powered by a non-rechargeable battery rather than solar panels, its life was short-lived – although the team noted on Twitter it was “more than” expected.
Hayabusa-2 has one more lander that it will send to the surface, called Rover 2, which will be deployed in 2019. However, a landing of the spacecraft itself on the surface to collect samples has been delayed from later this year to early next as the team hunts for a flat location to land.
In the meantime the spacecraft will continue to send images and data back, including that from its plucky rovers. Hayabusa-2 is scheduled to return to Earth, leaving its companions behind but bringing samples of the asteroid, in 2020.