Japan drops new robot on asteroid

A Japanese probe launched a new observation robot towards an asteroid on Wednesday as it pursues a mission to shed light on the origins of the solar system.

The Hayabusa2 probe launched the French-German Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout, or MASCOT, towards the Ryugu asteroid’s surface, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said.

About MASCOT:

The 10-kg box-shaped MASCOT is loaded with sensors. It has been built by the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and the French Space Agency (Cnes).

It can take images at multiple wavelengths, investigate minerals with a microscope, gauge surface temperatures and measure magnetic fields.

MASCOT will be largely immobile — it will “jump” just once on its mission, and it can turn on its sides.

The MASCOT has a maximum battery life of just 16 hours.

MINERVA-II micro-rovers:

About 10 days ago, Hayabusa2 dropped a pair of MINERVA-II micro-rovers on the Ryugu asteroid. It was the first time that moving, robotic observation device have been successfully landed on an asteroid.

The rovers will take advantage of Ryugu’s low gravity to jump around on the surface -travelling as far as 15 metres (49 feet) while airbourne and staying in the air for as long as 15 minutes — to survey the asteroid’s physical features with cameras and sensors.

Objectives of Hayabusa2 mission:

The Hayabusa2 is scheduled later this month to deploy an “impactor” that will explode above the asteroid, shooting a two-kilo (four-pound) copper object into it to blast a small crater on the surface. The probe will then hover over the artificial crater and collect samples using an extended arm.

The samples of “fresh” materials, unexposed to millennia of wind and radiation, could help answer some fundamental questions about life and the universe, including whether elements from space helped give rise to life on Earth.

Hayabusa2, about the size of a large fridge and equipped with solar panels, is the successor to JAXA’s first asteroid explorer, Hayabusa — Japanese for falcon.

That probe returned from a smaller, potato-shaped, asteroid in 2010 with dust samples despite various setbacks during an epic seven-year odyssey and was hailed as a scientific triumph.

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