Life Science Relief as scout touches down on distant asteroid

Relief as scout touches down on distant asteroid

MASCOT has successfully landed on an asteroid. Photo: DLR
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A 10 kilogram lander has touched down on the surface of an asteroid 325 million kilometres from Earth after it was released from an unmanned Japanese spacecraft.

“The relief about the successful separation and subsequent confirmation of the landing was clearly noticeable in the MASCOT Control Centre,” the German Aerospace Centre said on Wednesday, referring to the lander called the Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout.

The scout was built by DLR and the French National Centre for Space Studies.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) earlier confirmed space probe Hayabusa2 released MASCOT over the 900-metre-wide asteroid known as Ryugu at an altitude of 51 metres.

The DLR control room said the landing could not have gone better. Photo: DLR

DLR said it descended in free fall – slower than an earthly pedestrian – to its destination.

“It could not have gone better,” DLR’s MASCOT project manager Tra-Mi Ho said.

“From the lander’s telemetry, we were able to see that it separated from the mothercraft, and made contact with the asteroid surface approximately 20 minutes later.”

After touchdown, MASCOT will measure the asteroid’s surface temperatures and magnetic field and examine the mineralogical and geological composition of the surface, according to DLR.

“The researchers will be watching with excitement in the minutes and hours after touchdown, as it is impossible to predict how MASCOT will move on the surface according to the laws of physics alone,” DLR said on its website.

“With MASCOT, we have the unique opportunity to study the solar system’s most primordial material directly on an asteroid,” DLR planetary researcher Ralf Jaumann said in a statement.

The lander will operate on the surface for only 16 hours, JAXA said.

“MASCOT has a lithium primary battery that will last approximately 16 hours. This is about two asteroid days on Ryugu! Once the battery runs out, the lander operation will end,” the agency wrote on Twitter.

Researchers hope the readings will help them find out more about the origin and evolution of the solar system.