German-French rover lands safely on asteroid Ryugu

The German-French Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout landed safely on the asteroid Ryugu during the night from Tuesday to Wednesday. This landing follows an earlier successful landing of two small Japanese ‘jumping’ rovers.

Project manager Tra-Mi Ho reports on the project’s website that the landing was successful and that the landing procedure could not have gone better. The Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout, or Mascot, was fired from a distance of 51 meters from the asteroid and landed very quietly on the surface about 20 minutes later. The lander will take measurements on the asteroid for 16 hours.

Like the two Japanese robbers, the autonomous Mascot can move by making jumps, as it were. A metal arm is used for this, which is also used to set the rover straight again. The data to be collected should shed light on the early history of our solar system and the role that carbon-rich asteroids like Ryugu may have played in the origin of life on Earth. It also concerns the processes that take place in the asteroid. Mascot has a camera on board, a radiometer, an infrared spectrometer and a magnetometer. As soon as Mascot has taken the necessary measurements, it will in principle jump to a new measurement location.

Mascot has detached from the Japanese mothership, the space probe Hayabusa2. Launched nearly four years ago, this probe set sail for 1999 JU3 Ryugu, a type C asteroid about 300 million kilometers from Earth. On Friday, two small robbers were already released from Hayabusa2. The spacecraft includes an optional fourth rover. Ultimately, the spacecraft should return to Earth in 2020 and about a year and a half of data will have been collected. The asteroid is about a kilometer in diameter and contains quite a few minerals such as nickel and cobalt.

A photo taken by Mascot during the landing, showing the shadow of the lander at the top right.

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