Japanese spacecraft drops observation device onto asteroid

This computer graphic image provided by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) shows the Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout, or MASCOT, lander on the asteroid Ryugu. The Japanese unmanned spacecraft Hayabusa2 dropped the German-French observation device, MASCOT, on Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018, to land on the asteroid as part of a research effort intended to find clues to the origin of the solar system. (JAXA via AP)

TOKYO — A German-French observation device safely landed on an asteroid on Wednesday after a Japanese spacecraft released it as part of a research effort that could find clues about the origin of the solar system, Japanese space officials said.

The Japan Space Exploration Agency said the Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout, or MASCOT, was released from the unmanned spacecraft Hayabusa2 and successfully landed on the asteroid Ryugu.

The spacecraft went as close as about 50 meters (160 feet) to the asteroid's surface to release the box-shaped lander. Hayabusa2 has been stationed near the asteroid since June after traveling 280 million kilometers (170 million miles) from Earth.

About an hour after the separation, the space agency, known as JAXA, said it had received signals from MASCOT, an indication of its safe landing.

JAXA's Hayabusa project manager, Yuichi Tsuda, confirmed the landing at a news conference. JAXA collaborated with the German Aerospace Center and France's Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales in the MASCOT project.

The lander's deployment follows the successful landing last month of two MINERVA-II1 observation rovers that have transmitted a series of images showing the asteroid's rocky surface.

Hayabusa2 dropped MASCOT on the opposite hemisphere from the rovers so they don't interfere with each other's activity, JAXA said.

It took more than three years for the Hayabusa2 spacecraft to reach the asteroid's vicinity. Hayabusa2 will later attempt to briefly land on the asteroid itself to collect samples to send back to researchers on Earth.

The two successful landings of the probes provide a boost of confidence ahead of the upcoming landing of Hayabusa2, though that will be a greater challenge, Tsuda said.

The lithium battery-run MASCOT can operate 16 hours — while the asteroid revolves twice — to collect and transmit data, including temperature and mineral varieties. After its observation activity at the initial landing spot, it will bounce to a second location to collect another set of samples there.

According to JAXA, MASCOT is carrying a wide-angle camera on its side to capture images of its surroundings. A spectroscopic microscope on the bottom is designed to examine minerals on the asteroid's surface. MASCOT will also measure the magnetic force and temperature on the asteroid.

___

Follow Mari Yamaguchi on Twitter at www.twitter.com/mariyamaguchi

Find her work at https://www.apnews.com/search/mari%20yamaguchi

People also read these

Hong Kong shuts down as powerful typhoon sweeps past

Aug 23, 2017

A powerful typhoon has forced offices and schools to close and canceled hundreds of flights on Hong...

The Latest: Death toll rises to 9 after typhoon hits China

Aug 24, 2017

Authorities and state media say the death toll from powerful Typhoon Hato in southern China has...

EU Chamber warns China: Open economy faster or risk backlash

Sep 19, 2017

A business group is urging China to carry out promises to open its economy and warned inaction...

Springer Nature blocks access to articles in China

Nov 1, 2017

Academic publisher Springer Nature says it has blocked access to articles within China to comply...

China's Huawei to expand in US smartphone market next year

Dec 18, 2017

An executive of Huawei says the Chinese smartphone brand plans to start sales in the U.S. market...

AseanCoverage is a next-gen news site focusing exclusively on online news from South East Asia.

Contact us: sales[at]aseancoverage.com