Japan’s Hayabusa 2 spacecraft briefly landed on an asteroid Thursday more than 200 million miles from Earth and fired a bullet to scoop up a rocky sample, successfully accomplishing one of the mission’s most challenging maneuvers before returning the asteroid specimen to scientists on the ground in December 2020.
NASA has selected United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 rocket to dispatch the Lucy spacecraft on a mission from Cape Canaveral in October 2021 to fly by seven unexplored asteroids, including six objects locked in orbits leading and trailing Jupiter, where scientists expect swarms of miniature worlds could hold clues about the formation of the solar system.
Some time next year, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will descend to the boulder-strewn surface of asteroid Bennu, reach out with a robotic arm, and fetch a sample for return to Earth, but an initial survey of the space rock millions of miles from Earth suggests the robotic mission may have few suitable targets for the touch-and-go maneuver.
The MASCOT lander released from Japan’s Hayabusa 2 spacecraft this week made three hops to different locations on asteroid Ryugu before draining its battery, outliving its design life and sending back data from all four of its instruments, according to German and French officials who developed the surface robot.
Track the progress of the MASCOT lander, a tiny robot developed in Germany and France, as it explores asteroid Ryugu for a daring mission to hop across the austere world’s boulder-strewn landscape, taking pictures and collecting scientific data along the way. The robotic probe was released from the Hayabusa 2 spacecraft around 0200 GMT Wednesday (10 p.m. EDT Tuesday), and touched down a few minutes later.