Published: Sun, September 23, 2018
Science | By

Japan spacecraft sends rovers to asteroid

Japan spacecraft sends rovers to asteroid

Hayabusa2 is scheduled to drop the MASCOT observation lander, made by German and French organizations, onto Ryugu on October 3.

The main spacecraft itself is also scheduled to descend to the surface in 2019 and collect samples for the return trip.

So far so good, but JAXA must still wait for Hayabusa2 to send the rovers' data to Earth in a day or two to determine whether the release of the probes succeeded, officials said.

Hayabusa-2 reached the asteroid Ryugu in June this year after a three-and-a-half-year journey.

Hayabusa2 carries four payloads - three rovers and the 10kg lander, the Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout (MASCOT) built by the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) and the French space agency (CNES). Today, those weird little rovers were successfully launched, but now JAXA - along with the rest of the world - is waiting with baited breath: did the probes land successfully, or will this be a repeat of JAXA's last botched attempt in 2005? Each one is about 2.8 inches tall and weighs around 2.4 pounds.

The solar panelled-powered rovers move by "hopping" because the extremely weak gravity on the asteroid makes rolling hard. We are planning to use the cameras on each rover to create a stereo image of the surface of Ryugu. Some of the projections from the rover edge that looks like thorns are temperature sensors to measure the surface temperature of Ryugu. The maximum communication speed is 32 kbps. The idea is that the crater will expose deeper layers of the asteroid that haven't been affected by radiation or solar wind, allowing scientists to get a better picture of its composition. The goal of the $150 million mission is to study the asteroid in depth, from space and from the surface, and bring samples back to Earth in late 2020.

C-type asteroids, which are largely composed of carbon, are the most common variety of asteroids, comprising more than 75% of those now discovered.

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