Touch down! European-made lander reaches Ryugu asteroid

Touch down! European-made lander reaches Ryugu asteroid

It's equipped with a spectroscopic microscope to analyze the composition of minerals on the asteroid's surface.

A shoebox-sized lander called the Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout (MASCOT) has landed on the Ryugu asteroid.

Hayabusa2 is scheduled later this month to deploy an "impactor" that will explode above the asteroid, shooting a 2-kg copper object into it to blast a small crater on the surface. Hayabusa2 has been stationed near the asteroid since June after traveling 280 million kilometers (170 million miles) from Earth. The team tweeted a photo of the shadow. During its 167-foot (51-metre) free fall, MASCOT descended no quicker than a walking pace. Both of those little robots aced their touchdowns and soon began exploring the surface of Ryugu.

The relief about the successful separation and subsequent confirmation of the landing was clearly noticeable In the MASCOT Control Center at DLR.

It could not have gone better.

"From the lander's telemetry, we were able to see that it separated from the mothercraft and made contact with the asteroid surface approximately 20 minutes later", he added.

"It is hugely significant to take data from the surface of an asteroid, we have high expectations for the scientific data", Hayabusa2 mission manager Makoto Yoshikawa at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) told a briefing before the landing.

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The camera worked perfectly.

MASCOT has already started gathering data with its four onboard science instruments - a camera, a radiometer, a spectrometer and a magnetometer - mission team members said.

The observation rovers, each about the size of circular cookie tin, don't have wheels but jump around the asteroid.

The mothership may have one more rover deployment to go: It still carries the "optional" hopper MINERVA-II2, which could make its way to Ryugu's surface next year.

JAXA tweeted shortly after the landing began that it was in communication with MASCOT.

But the probe will not be alone, as it joins the two rovers MINERVA-II1A and MINERVA-II1B on the asteroid.

MASCOT is outfitted with a small infrared spectroscopic microscope, created to analyze the composition of Ryugu's surface. The OSIRIS-REx probe is scheduled to arrive in orbit around the 1,650-foot-wide (500 m) asteroid Bennu on December 31 and return samples to Earth in September 2023. An global team of engineers and scientists in Germany is busy gathering MASCOT's data.

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