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German-French probe released by Hayabusa 2 lands on asteroid Ryugu

Project team members applaud after the confirmation of the Hayabusa 2 spacecraft's successful release of the German-French MASCOT probe bound for the asteroid Ryugu, at the mission control room in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, on Oct. 3, 2018. (Photo courtesy of JAXA)
This photo shows the MASCOT compact lander released by Hayabusa 2 on Oct. 3, 2018. (Photo courtesy of the German space agency DRL)

TOKYO --The German-French MASCOT probe landed on the asteroid Ryugu on Oct. 3 after its release by Japan's Hayabusa 2 spacecraft earlier the same day, the German space agency DLR and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) announced.

The lander, co-developed by DLR and France's CNES space agency, will examine minerals on the surface of the asteroid. According to Hayabusa 2 mission manager Makoto Yoshikawa, MASCOT, or Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout, will be able to perform a detailed analysis of surface materials while in direct contact with Ryugu.

"We have a lot of expectations for getting scientific data about the surface," Yoshikawa said.

The lander is about 30 centimeters in width and 20 centimeters in height and weighs about 10 kilograms. The probe is equipped with a near-spectroscopic microscope that can be used to determine the types of minerals on Ryugu, or whether organic materials or water are present. It also has a camera, magnetometer and infrared radiometer. MASCOT has enough power in its lithium-ion battery for 16 hours of observations.

Hayabusa 2 released the lander after descending to around 60 meters above the asteroid from a position about 20 kilometers away. The latest descent began on the afternoon of Oct. 2.

The JAXA probe is expected to make its own landing sometime this month. Hayabusa 2 sent two Minerva 2 probes to Ryugu in late September to scout for candidate landing sites. The spacecraft, launched in December 2014 and arriving at Ryugu after a 3-1/2-year voyage, is scheduled to come back to Earth in late 2020.

(Japanese original by Etsuko Nagayama, Opinion Group)

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