An observation device, built in collaboration by the space agencies of Germany and France, has safely landed on the asteroid Ryugu. The device was released from an unmanned Japanese spacecraft on Wednesday.
The device — known as the Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout or MASCOT — was released from a distance of 160 feet from the Hayabusa2 spacecraft, before landing on the asteroid. Hayabusa2 has been stationed near the asteroid since June at a distance of 280 million kilometers (170 million miles) from Earth.
— MASCOT Lander (@MASCOT2018) October 3, 2018
Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA) Hayabusa project manager, Yuichi Tsuda, also confirmed the landing at a news conference.
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As the first observation device to land successfully on an asteroid, the data collected by MASCOT could reveal much about the origins of our solar system. The aim of the mission is to take images at multiple wavelengths, investigate minerals with a microscope, gauge surface temperatures and measure magnetic fields on the asteroid.
“It is hugely significant to take data from the surface of an asteroid,” said Makoto Yoshikawa, mission manager of Hayabusa2, at a press briefing before the landing.
MASCOT’s deployment follows the successful landing of two MINERVA-II1 observation rovers last month. These rovers have already transmitted a series of images showing Ryugu’s rocky surface. According to a statement by JAXA, MASCOT landed on the hemisphere opposite to the other rovers so as not to interfere with their activity. Later, the Hayabusa2 spacecraft will also attempt to briefly land on the asteroid to collect samples to send back to researchers on Earth.
In light of this success, the Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES), the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) and JAXA have released a joint statement declaring that they wish to cooperate further on an upcoming mission to explore the Martian moons Phobos and Deimos. The rover to be used in this mission will also be jointly developed through German-French collaboration.
The MASCOT rover, which was powered by primary batteries, could only remain operational for approximately 24 hours but the new rover will be powered by solar cell, enabling it to remain operational for several months.