Japan lands ro­bot on as­ter­oid

The Phnom Penh Post - - WORLD - Miwa Suzuki

AJA­PANESE probe landed a new ob­ser­va­tion ro­bot on an as­ter­oid on Wed­nes­day as it pur­sues a mis­sion to shed light on the ori­gins of the so­lar sys­tem. The French-Ger­man Mo­bile As­ter­oid Sur­face Scout, or Mas­cot, launched from the Hayabusa2 probe, landed safely on Ryugu and was in con­tact with its team, the lan­der’s of­fi­cial Twit­ter ac­count said.

“And then I found my­self in a place like no place on Earth. A land full of won­der, mys­tery and dan­ger!,” the @ MASCOT2018 ac­count tweeted. “I landed on as­ter­oid Ryugu!” Mas­cot is ex­pected to col­lect a wide range of data on the as­ter­oid, some 300 mil­lion kilo­me­tres (190 mil­lion miles) from Earth.

“It is hugely sig­nif­i­cant to take data from the sur­face of an as­ter­oid, we have high ex­pec­ta­tions for the sci­en­tific data,” Hayabusa2 mis­sion man­ager Makoto Yoshikawa at the Japan Aero­space Ex­plo­ration Agency ( Jaxa) told a brief­ing be­fore the land­ing.

The 10kg box-shaped Mas­cot is loaded with sen­sors. It can take im­ages at mul­ti­ple wave­lengths, in­ves­ti­gate min­er­als with a mi­cro­scope, gauge sur­face tem­per­a­tures and mea­sure mag­netic fields.

Mas­cot’s launch comes 10 days af­ter the Hayabusa2 dropped a pair of MIN- ERVA-II mi­cro-rovers on the Ryugu as­ter­oid.

It was the first time that mov­ing, ro­botic ob­ser­va­tion de­vices 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) and stay­ing above the sur­face for as long as 15 min­utes – to sur­vey the as­ter­oid’s phys­i­cal fea­tures with cam­eras and sen­sors.

Un­like those ma­chines, Mas­cot will be largely im­mo­bile – it will “jump” just once on its mis­sion, and it can turn on its sides.

And while the rovers will spend sev­eral months on the as­ter­oid, the Mas­cot has a max­i­mum bat­tery life of just 16 hours, and will trans­mit the data it col­lects to the Hayabusa2 be­fore run­ning out of juice.

The Hayabusa2 is sched­uled later this month to de­ploy an “im­pactor” that will ex­plode above the as­ter­oid, shoot­ing a two-kilo cop­per ob­ject into it to blast a small crater on the sur­face.

‘Life and uni­verse’

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.

Part of Mas­cot’s mis­sion is to col­lect data that will help de­ter­mine where the crater should be cre­ated.

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.

The Hayabusa2 mis­sion, which costs around ¥30 bil­lion ($260 mil­lion), was launched in De­cem­ber 2014 and will re­turn to Earth with its sam­ples in 2020.

JAXA/AFP

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.

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