Landing on the asteroid Ryugu chosen for Japan’s Hayabusa2 mission

The MA-9 site on the asteroid Ryugu, where the spacecraft Hayabusa2’s MASCOT lander will touch down on Oct. 3, 2018.


We now know where a Japanese asteroid-sampling probe, the lander will touch down in October.

The space probe Hayabusa2, the Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout (MASCOT) will land on a site in the asteroid Ryugu the southern hemisphere, called MA-9, mission officials announced today (Aug. 23).

MA-9 won out over nine other finalists, because it is the best combination of the scientific potential of, and accessibility to, the MASCOT, members of the team said. [Japan’s Hayabusa2 Asteroid Sample Return Mission in Photos]

“From our perspective, the selected landing site, which means that we engineers can guide MASCOT to the asteroid surface in the safest possible way, while the scientists can use their various instruments in the best possible way,” MASCOT project manager Tra-Mi Ho from the DLR Institute for Space Systems, said in a statement. (DLR is the German Aerospace Center, which is active in MASCOT with the support of the French space agency, CNES.)

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MA-9 has a relatively fresh, uncontaminated material from the surface that is not exposed to cosmic radiation for a long time in comparison with other parts of the 3,000 meters wide (950 meters) asteroid members of the team said. And Hayabusa2 will drop three small rovers on the patches of the space rock’s northern hemisphere, so a southern site for the 22-lb. (10 kilo) MASCOT to give the mission a larger coverage of the space rock, they added.

In addition, MA-9 is not as boulder-studded as most other Ryugu regions. That does not mean that the landing will be a breeze on Oct. 3, however.

“But we are also aware of the fact that There seem to be large boulders in the most of Ryugu surface and hardly [any] surfaces with a flat regolith,” Ho added. “Although scientifically very interesting, this is also a challenge for a small lander and for sampling.”

The $150 million Hayabusa2 mission launched in December 2014, and arrived at the Ryugu on 27 June of this year. If all goes according to plan, the spacecraft will study the large asteroid out of a job for another 16 months and also drop down several times to grab samples of Ryugu material.

Meanwhile, the MASCOT and the three tiny, hopping rovers — known as Minerva-II-1a, Minerva-II-1b and Minerva-II-2 — collect a variety of information about the asteroid from the surface. (Minerva, I flew aboard Japan’s first asteroid-sampling mission, the original Hayabusa, which returned grains from the space rock Itokawa to Earth in 2010.)

The Hayabusa2 orbiter is scheduled to depart from Ryugu in December 2019. The capsule with the mission of the asteroid samples on Earth to come, about a year later, in December 2020.

Hayabusa2 is not the only asteroid-sampling project underway. NASA’s $800 million OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer) mission is the approach in the direction of the asteroid Bennu, and should arrive in orbit around 1,650 feet wide (500 m) rock in December. OSIRIS-REx samples are due to land on Earth in September 2023.

Both Hayabusa2 and OSIRIS-REx goal is to help scientists better understand asteroid composition and structure, the beginning of the history and evolution of the solar system, and the role of space rocks may have played in helping life to start on Earth.

To pristine samples from asteroid material back to Earth will allow researchers to address such questions efficiently and effectively, team members from both missions have said. Scientists can perform many more experiments and research with the help of well equipped labs in the world than a robot probe could perform all by itself in deep space.

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