Numerous boulders, many rocks, no dust – that’s the report from operators of the MASCOT lander deployed from its mother probe, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Hayabusa2 mission to the near-Earth asteroid Ryugu.

MASCOT is space shorthand for Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout.

Never before in the history of space has a body of the Solar System been explored in this way.

Ryugu is a C-type asteroid – a carbon-rich representative of the oldest bodies of the four-and-a-half-billion year-old Solar System.

Gentle impact

On October 3, after six minutes of free fall, a gentle impact on the asteroid and then 11 minutes of rebounding until coming to rest – that’s the journey of MASCOT.

Some 17 hours of scientific exploration followed this first ‘stroll’ on the space rock.

The lander was commanded and controlled from the MASCOT Control Centre at the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) site in Cologne in the presence of scientific teams from Germany, France and Japan.

The German-French lander MASCOT on board Hayabusa2 was developed by the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) and built in close cooperation with the French space agency CNES (Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales).

Photo (right) taken after first contact with asteroid.
Credit: JAXA/U Tokyo/Kochi U/Rikkyo U/Nagoya U/Chiba Inst Tech/Jeiji U/U Aizu/AIST (links); MASCOT/DLR/JAXA (rechts).

Pathway charted

It has now been possible to precisely trace MASCOT’s path on Ryugu’s surface on the basis of image data from the Japanese Hayabusa2 space probe and the lander’s images and data.

On the surface, MASCOT moved through the activation of a tungsten swing arm accelerated and decelerated by a motor. This made it possible for MASCOT to be repositioned to the ‘correct’ side or even perform hops across the asteroid’s surface.

During the mission, the team named MASCOT’s landing site (MA-9) ‘Alice’s Wonderland’, after the book by Lewis Carroll (1832-1898).

Jump and Mini-move

After the first impact, MASCOT smoothly bounced off a large block, touched the ground about eight times, and then found itself in a resting position unfavorable for taking on-the-spot measurements.

The MASCOT battery powered up after four years on standby during its trip from Earth to the asteroid.
Credit: Saft

After commanding and executing a specially prepared correction maneuver, MASCOT came to a second halt. The exact location of this second position is still being determined.

There, the lander completed detailed measurements during one asteroid day and night. This was followed by a small ‘mini-move’ to provide the MicrOmega spectrometer with even better conditions for measuring the composition of the asteroid material.

Finally, MASCOT was set in motion one last time for a bigger jump. At the last location it carried out some more measurements before the third night on the asteroid began, and contact with Hayabusa2 was lost as the spaceship had moved out of line of sight. Its onboard battery depleted, MASCOT’s 17 hours and 7 minutes on Ryugu was over.

Note: Story based on DLR press statement.

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