Tokyo (Japan) – Less than a week before the landing unit MASCOT of the Japanese probe “Hayabusa2” is to land on the asteroid Ryugo, the two twin rovers and hopper Minerva-II1A and B have for the first time ever taken images directly from the surface of a comet.
Arriving at its destination on 27 June, the probe “Hayabusa2” (Hayabusa = Japanese: peregrine falcon) first placed itself on a 20-kilometer-high orbit around the asteroid, before approaching the surface in mid-July up to 6 kilometers and to deliver the first fascinating shots from here.
Later, at the beginning of August 2018, the probe then took pictures from just one kilometer away:
On September 21, the two twin rovers and hopper “Minerva II1A and B” then separated and successfully landed in the equatorial region of the 950-meter asteroid. The approximately 18 centimeters diameter instruments are equipped with four or three cameras, which also 3D stereo images can be recorded.
The hoppers take advantage of the asteroid’s low attraction to move instead of rolling, hopping over the Ryugu surface. In this way, the images not only show the stony and gravel surface of the asteroid but also have their own dynamics, as they show not only the sun moving across the sky but also here and there slight motion blur during the jumps.
The so far high-resolution image of the Ryugo surface shows its details from a distance of just 64 meters. The lower picture shows the position of the image section (yellow frame) on the asteroid surface together with the shadow of the Hayabusa2 probe:
For the 3rd of October 2018, the landing of the mobile landing unit MASCOT (Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout) at about 315 degrees east and 30 degrees south in the southern hemisphere of the asteroid is now planned. A total of four instruments should then perform measurements on the surface. On board are the infrared spectrometer MicrOmega, magnetometer MAG, the camera MASCAM, and the radiometer MARA.
Also, MASCOT should move independently by means of a special mechanism over the asteroid surface and can jump thereby 10 to 70 meters far. Because of the limited life of the lithium-ion battery, the mission duration of the lander is estimated at about 16 hours.
While MASCOT will remain on Ryugu after the completion of the mission, Hayabusa2 is expected to return to Earth in late 2020, with soil samples to be ejected from the asteroid surface with projectile-forming charges and a funnel.