Touchdown! Japan space probe lands new robot on asteroid

The Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout (MASCOT) can take images at multiple wavelengths, investigate minerals with a microscope, gauge surface temperatures and measure magnetic fields. (AFP)
Updated 03 October 2018

Touchdown! Japan space probe lands new robot on asteroid

TOKYO: A Japanese 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 kilometers 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 10-kilogram (22-pound) 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 MINERVA-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 — traveling as far as 15 meters 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.

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.


At Davos, innovative products point to a sustainable future

Updated 24 January 2020

At Davos, innovative products point to a sustainable future

  • A single tree that to bear 40 different types of apple

DAVOS: The World Economic Forum is not all about the fourth industrial revolution or the rise of AI.

You can also find all manner of strange and intriguing products on display from biodegradable plastic made from algae to wallpaper made from recycled corn husks.

One stand titled “How do you design a tree?” is part of a conservation effort where a single tree is designed to bear 40 different types of apple.

Another stand displays colored seaweed on a rack, showing how clothes can be dyed in a sustainable, non-chemically corrosive manner.

Propped along a large wall is Fernando Laposse’s wallpaper made of variations of purple corn husks that are reinforced with recycled cardboard and cork to create wallpaper and furniture. The husks come from corn that needs very little water and can be grown in the desert, which makes it all the more sustainable.

“This initiative helps the local economy as it brings in jobs and a resurgence of crafts and food traditions while also ensuring sustainability,” Laposse said.

Another display shows a machine that extracts pellets from a mixture of algae and starch and is used to create a thread that is the base of 3D printing. These sustainable, biodegradable plastics made from algae are being experimented with in different regions.

With the rise of deep fakes — a branch of synthetic media in which a person in an existing image or video is replaced with someone else’s likeness — another stand delivers a warning on the looming dangers of unregulated software.

The Davos forum prides itself on its sustainability, and key topics have included climate, mobility, energy and the circular economy. Everything is recyclable, and participants must download an application in order to keep up with the program and any changes — a move to cut down on paper waste.