The MASCOT robot successfully lands on its asteroid

On Wednesday 3 October, just before 4.00 a.m. (Paris time), the “Mascot” module was ejected from JAXA’s (Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency) Hayabusa2 probe to land on Ryugu, a small carbonaceous asteroid, to carry out totally ground-breaking observations and measurements, in particular by means of a microscope designed and developed at Institut d’Astrophysique Spatiale [Institute for Space Astrophysics] (IAS – UPSud/CNRS).

After its successful drop by Hayabusa2 on Wednesday 3 October (just before 4.00 a.m.) and a short free-fall descent at an estimated speed of 15cm/s, the MASCOT (Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout) robot perfectly executed its landing at site MA-9 on the asteroid, Ryugu’s southern hemisphere, after several successive rebounds on its particularly inhospitable surface (very rocky soil according to photos taken at 6km by Hayabusa2’s camera, unknown surface temperature, etc.).

The Franco-German robot from the Japanese Hayabusa2 mission can now start its scientific expedition, a first in the history of space, because the lander is mobile and will move on the asteroid’s surface by making small jumps due to the low gravity. MASCOT will be able to analyse the mineral composition of the asteroid’s soil granules at two sites a few metres apart with its four instruments and hence will try to unlock all its secrets.

Mascot is carrying, amongst others, MicrOmega, a near-infrared hyperspectral microscope designed and developed at IAS. For the first time, in situ exploration of such an object will be undertaken with the primary objective of characterising its composition down to microscopic scale.

Scientists are seeking to learn about the properties and structures of near-Earth asteroids in order to better understand the formation of our solar system, the appearance of water and life on Earth and perhaps to determine solutions to be implemented in the event of a risk of collision of an object of this type with the Earth.

For MASCOT, everything will take place during a 12 to 15-hour period corresponding to the length of time which its battery will power it for, the period that immediately follows its separation from the Hayabusa2 probe.
The Hayabusa2 mission will then continue close to Ryugu until the end of 2019 with the aim of returning to Earth in late 2020 with extra-terrestrial soil samples on board.

The outcome of this incredible space adventure will then belong to the science teams who will use the results of these in situ analyses.

Jean-Pierre Bibring – Institut d’Astrophysique Spatiale – (IAS UPSud/CNRS)
Cédric Pilorget – Institut d’Astrophysique Spatiale – (IAS UPSud/CNRS)