August 7, 2018

Exploration of asteroid Ryugu by Hayabusa2 - Choice of landing site for MASCOT surface scout

CNES experts are helping determine the optimal landing site for the MASCOT robot on asteroid Ryugu. To this end, on 14 August CNES’s Toulouse Space Centre (CST) will host the community of French, German and Japanese scientists and engineers on the Hayabusa2 mission to draw up a shortlist of potential landing sites for the Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout (MASCOT), which will be dropped onto the asteroid in early October.

On 27 June, the Hayabusa2 spacecraft arrived at its ‘home position’ 20 km from asteroid Ryugu and began gathering data and mapping the surface for optimal landing sites for MASCOT. From 27 July, the CNES teams have been working on this data at the MASCOT mission centre, drawing on their world-class expertise in orbital mechanics. CNES’s know-how in this area is unique and was successfully put to the test for the Philae lander’s descent onto a comet in 2014 as part of the Rosetta mission. “We know MASCOT will bounce off the surface like dice off a gambling table, so we need to determine as best we can what the landing surface is like,” says Laurence Lorda, coordinator of CNES’s orbital mechanics teams.

CNES’s orbital mechanics teams are working from assumptions which they are gradually refining as more observations are made in order to perform the complex calculations and determine the best landing sites. To do this, they are attempting to incorporate all the parameters and constraints associated with Ryugu, including its non-uniform gravitational field, rocky surface (revealed by the images from Hayabusa2’s camera at 6 km) and unknown surface temperature.

The 14 August session will be a crucial time as the scientists debate the proposed landing sites and defend their choices, based on the constraints associated with the instruments they are responsible for on MASCOT. The day will conclude with a shortlist of potential sites and the choice of one preferred site for the lander. This choice will then be validated by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), taking account of the location it has chosen for the first sampling operation by the Hayabusa2 spacecraft. “We need to ensure that Hayabusa2 doesn’t target the same site as MASCOT,” says Aurélie Moussi, MASCOT project leader at CNES. On 23 August, CNES, the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) and JAXA will unveil the landing sites for the Hayabusa2 sampling operation and MASCOT’s descent onto asteroid Ryugu.

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About the Hayabusa2 mission
Hayabusa2 is a mission by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) to gather samples on asteroid Ryugu and return them to Earth. The French-German MASCOT surface scout on Hayabusa2 is developed and built by the German Aerospace Centre (DLR), working closely with CNES, France’s national space agency. The science instruments on MASCOT are developed by DLR, the IAS space astrophysics institute in Paris and the Braunschweig University of Technology in Germany. The MASCOT lander and the experiments it carries are operated and controlled by DLR with CNES’s support and constant interaction with JAXA.

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