The MA-9 site on the asteroid Ryugu, where the MASCOT lander of the Hayabusa2 spacecraft will land on October 3, 2018.
Credit: JAXA / DLR
We now know where the lander of a Japanese asteroid sampling probe arrives in October.
The Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout (MASCOT) of the Hayabusa2 will land at a location in the southern hemisphere of the asteroid Ryugu, called MA-9, mission officials announced today (August 23).
MA-9 won more than nine other finalists because it offered the best combination of scientific potential and accessibility, said MASCOT team members. [Japan’s Hayabusa2 Asteroid Sample-Return Mission in Pictures]
"From our perspective, the selected landing site means that we can guide MASCOT engineers to the surface of the asteroid in the safest possible way, while scientists can use their different tools in the best possible way," MASCOT project manager Tra-Mi Ho, from the DLR Institute of Space Systems, said in a statement. (DLR is the German Aerospace Center, which MASCOT operates with the support of the French space agency CNES.)
MA-9 features relatively fresh, unrefined surface material that has not been exposed to cosmic radiation for a long time compared to other parts of the 3,000-meter wide (950 meters) asteroid, team members say. And Hayabusa2 will drop three small robbers on patches of the northern hemisphere of space rock, a southern site for the 22-pound. (10 kilograms) MASCOT gives the mission more coverage of the space rock, she added.
Moreover, MA-9 is not as good with cobblestone as most other Ryugu regions. That does not mean that there will be a breeze on October 3rd.
"But we are also aware: there seem to be large boulders over most of Ryugu's surface and hardly any [any] surfaces with flat regolith ", added Ho." Although this is very interesting from a scientific point of view, this is also a challenge for a small lander and for sampling. "
The Hayabusa2 mission of $ 150 million was launched in December 2014 and arrived in Ryugu on June 27 this year. If everything goes according to plan, the spacecraft will study the large asteroid out of orbit for another 16 months and also go down several times to take samples of Ryugu material.
Meanwhile, MASCOT and the three small, hopping predators – known as Minerva-II-1a, Minerva-II-1b and Minerva-II-2 – will 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 Itokawa spacestone to Earth in 2010.)
The Hayabusa2 orbiter is scheduled to depart from Ryugu in December 2019. The capsule with the asteroid monsters of the mission comes to Earth one year later, in December 2020.
Hayabusa2 is not the only asteroid sampling project in progress. NASA's $ 800 million OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer) mission is on its last approach toward the asteroid Bennu, and should get into orbit around 1,650 feet wide (500 m) rock in December. The samples of OSIRIS-REx are due to land on earth in September 2023.
Both Hayabusa2 and OSIRIS-REx want to help scientists better understand the asteroid composition and structure, early history and evolution of the solar system, and the role that spacestone can have played to make life a beginning on Earth.
By bringing original samples of asteroid material back to earth, researchers can tackle such questions efficiently and effectively, according to team members from both missions. Scientists can carry out many more experiments and investigations using well-equipped laboratories around the world than a robotic probe that can only perform in space.