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Japanese Asteroid Mission: Sample Return and Hopper

Asteroid "hopper" is being readied for Japanese mission. Credit: DLR

MASCOT – the Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout – will be bound for asteroid JU 3 in 2014 courtesy of Japan’s Hayabusa-2 mission. Four years later, on arrival at the space rock, MASCOT will free-fall onto the asteroid’s surface, automatically orient itself, then “hop” from one spot to the next.

The German Aerospace Center (DLR) and the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) signed a memorandum of understanding on October 1st at the International Astronautical Congress in Naples.

The MASCOT asteroid lander is being developed by DLR in collaboration with French space agency (CNES) and JAXA.

Upon arrival at 1999 JU 3 in 2018, the Japanese Hayabusa-2 spacecraft will first make a close approach to the asteroid and take measurements of the body’s surface from there.

Suction science

Following an initial cartographical phase, the MASCOT asteroid lander will be put to work. A mechanism will push the 10-kilogram lander with its four instruments away from the spacecraft.

MASCOT is slated to free-fall to the asteroid from an altitude of around 100 meters. Sensors will then ensure that MASCOT knows which way is up and down, so it can orient itself and, if necessary, correct its attitude.

If all goes well, MASCOT represents the first time that a lander on the surface of an asteroid is able to move around and perform scientific measurements in more than one place.

MASCOT will work on the asteroid for a total of 16 hours – two full asteroid-days.

For its part, Japan’s Hayabusa-2 spacecraft is the prime spacecraft star. It will be using a suction nozzle to collect samples kicked up from the surface by impactor projectiles, and then return these to Earth for laboratory analysis.

Asteroid 1999 JU 3 is of particular interest to researchers because it consists of 4.5-billion-year-old material that has been altered very little.

By Leonard David

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