Japan asteroid trip
will star upgraded bouncing robot

12:14 05 October 2012 by Michael Slezak

Hayabusa 2, Japan’s second mission to collect samples from an asteroid, is getting a MASCOT.

The German Aerospace Center (DLR) in Cologne and the Japan Aerospace and Exploration Agency (JAXA) in Tokyo announced this week that they have formalised a deal to send the German-built Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout, or MASCOT, on the mission, set to launch in 2014.

JAXA’s original Hayabusa probe was a success – but only just. Technical challenges ranging from failed engines to lost communications meant that the spacecraft returned home hobbled and late, bearing just a few precious pieces of the stony asteroid Itokawa.

Hayabusa was meant to do so much more. A small jumping rover called MINERVA was supposed to collect data on the asteroid’s temperature and surface variability, but it was released at the wrong time and drifted off into space.

In addition to overcoming past technical hurdles, Hayabusa 2 will study a different type of asteroid to answer fundamental questions about the origins of life on Earth, the best targets for space mining and how to deflect a threatening space rock.

Full scientific payload

About the size of a case of beer and weighing in at 10 kilograms, MASCOT will be able to tell us more than MINERVA ever could have. The robot will carry a full scientific payload to study the temperature, chemical composition, surface texture and magnetic properties of the target asteroid, a carbonaceous object called 1999 JU3.

The new lander will be a vital component of the mission. Since it can collect detailed information about its neighbourhood on the surface, it will put any collected samples in context, explains Ralf Jaumann, a DLR planetary researcher. The robot’s measurements will also help the main spacecraft decide which rocks to collect and bring back to Earth.

Read more: Japan asteroid trip will star upgraded bouncing robot – space – 05 October 2012 – New Scientist.

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