Hayabusa2 – launched in December 2014 – is the first mission to an asteroid of this nature and only the second ever to return a sample from an asteroid, and experts believe it will provide an important insight into conditions in the early solar system.
The 600kg spacecraft – which features ion engines as well as state-of-the-art guidance and navigation technology, antennas and attitude control systems – is flown by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency in collaboration with the German Aerospace Centre and the National Centre for Space Studies in France.
It arrived at Ryugu in June and had mostly been observing the asteroid from around 20km, descending to an altitude of almost 50m above Ryugu’s surface to deploy two Japanese rovers in September, and the MASCOT lander on October 3.
“While the mother spacecraft will map the entire asteroid and take a sample, MASCOT was designed to take close-up pictures of the surface of the asteroid and to measure thermal properties of the surface at close range,” Dr Hagermann continued. “Ultimately, we hope the Hayabusa2 mission will tell us how the asteroid came about, and over what period of time, and provide information on the history of the solar system, particularly relating to water.”
The Hayabusa2 spacecraft is expected to return to Earth with samples by the end of 2020, allowing the team to clarify interactions between minerals, water and organic matter in the primitive solar system.
Dr Hagermann is also currently working on the NASA InSight mission and will be involved in assessing data from the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Probe, better known as HP3. This work aims to piece together the story behind Mars’ origin and evolution by measuring the heat currently escaping through the surface of Mars.
Stirling’s involvement in Hayabusa2 is funded by the Science and Technology Facilities Council. HP3 and MASCOT are led by the DLR Institute of Planetary Research Berlin.