Tag Archives: Ryugu

Hayabusa-2’s highest resolution image so far

Ryugu up close

The Hayabusa-2 science team has released the highest resolution image taken by the spacecraft so far. The image on the right, reduced to post here, is that image. Click on it to see the full resolution version.

The image resolution is about 4.6mm/pixel. This is the highest resolution image that Hayabusa2 has taken so far and even small rocks with a diameter of 2 – 3cm are clearly visible. The maximum resolution of AMICA –the camera at the time of the first Hayabusa mission— was 6 mm/pixel, so even its resolution has now been exceeded. As the image captured of the asteroid surface from the spacecraft, it will be one of the highest resolution to be taken of Ryugu (MINERVA-II1 and MASCOT which landed on the surface, have captured even higher resolution images).

A feature from the image is the lack of regolith (sandy substance). This was suspected to be true from the images obtained so far, but it is more clearly seen in this high resolution photograph. There is also a collection of pebbles with different colors, which may be evidence that the surface material of Ryugu is mixed.

This was taken during the second landing rehearsal about two weeks ago. The image clearly shows the rubble pile that is Ryugu, lacking anything but cemented rocks. It also illustrates the landing problem faced by Hayabusa-2’s engineers. They need a flat smooth area to land, and they have not really found one that fits their needs.

Share

Hayabusa-2 completes third Ryugu touchdown rehearsal

Ryugu up close

Hayabusa-2 today completed its third Ryugu touchdown rehearsal.

According to their operation schedule, they were planning to descent to about 20 meters of the surface, about 65 feet. The image on the right is the closest image taken during the rehearsal. You can see the shadow of Hayabusa-2 in the middle of the frame.

They have not released any information about the rehearsal results. The key here is how accurately they were able to get Hayabusa-2 to approach the asteroid’s largest flat spot, a tiny 20 meter wide spot less than half the size of their original planned landing diameter. From the image, it is unclear how successful they were.

They will now spend the next two months analyzing the data from their landing rehearsals in preparation for a landing attempt in January. During this time observations will be reduced because the Sun will be between the Earth and the asteroid.

Share

Hayabusa-2 will do two touchdown rehearsals prior to landing in January

In order to test whether they can bring Hayabusa-2 down to the surface within a circle only 20 meters (65 feet) across (the largest smooth landing area they have found so far on Ryugu), their engineering team has decided to first do two more touchdown rehearsals in October.

In the area where the spacecraft will touchdown, it is dangerous to have boulders with a height greater than about 50cm. Since the length of the sampler horn is about 1m and the spacecraft will be to be slightly inclined during the touchdown, there is a possibility that if a boulder with a height above about 50cm is present, it will strike the main body of the spacecraft or the solar panels. Viewed from the position in Figure 2, there is no boulder larger than 50cm in the area L08-B. L08-B is the widest part within all the candidate sites without a boulder larger than 50cm.

The difficulty is that area L08-B is only about 20m in diameter. Originally, it was assumed that a safe region for touchdown would be a flat area with a radius of about 50m (100m in diameter). This has now become a radius of just 10m; a fairly severe constraint. On the other hand, during the descent to an altitude of about 50m during the MINERVA-II1 and MASCOT separation operations, we were able to confirm that the spacecraft can be guided within a position accuracy of about 10m for a height 50m above the surface of Ryugu (Figure 3). This is a promising feature for touchdown.

Although the spacecraft can be controlled with a position error of 10m at an altitude down to 50m, there remains the question of whether this accuracy can be retained as the spacecraft descends to the surface. This must be confirmed before touchdown operations. Therefore, the touchdown itself will be postponed until next year, during which time we will have two touchdown rehearsals; TD1-R1-A and TD1-R3.

After the rehearsals in October they must wait until January to do the landing because in November and December the sun will be in-between the Earth and the spacecraft, making operations more difficult. They want to also use this time to review the results of the rehearsals to better prepare for the January landing.

Share

MASCOT’s journey on Ryugu

MASCOT's journey on Ryugu

MASCOT’s German science team has released a summary of the lander/hopper’s results and seventeen hour journey across the surface of the asteroid Ryugu. The image on the right, reduced and cropped to post here, shows the spacecraft approach, landing, and numerous hops across the surface. If you click on the image you can see the full high resolution image.

Having reconstructed the events that took place on asteroid Ryugu, the scientists are now busy analysing the first results from the acquired data and images. “What we saw from a distance already gave us an idea of what it might look like on the surface,” reports Ralf Jaumann from the DLR Institute of Planetary Research and scientific director of the MASCOT mission. “In fact, it is even crazier on the surface than expected. Everything is covered in rough blocks and strewn with boulders. How compact these blocks are and what they are composed of, we still do not know. But what was most surprising was that large accumulations of fine material are nowhere to be found – and we did not expect that. We have to investigate this in the next few weeks, because the cosmic weathering would actually have had to produce fine material,” continues Jaumann.

The spacecraft apparently bounced eight times after first contact, then executed three hops. The rubble pile nature that is observed I think explains why the Hayabusa-2 science team decided to delay its own landing for a few months so they could figure out a plan. It really appears that Ryugu does not have any smooth flat spots, as expect.

Share

Hayabusa-2 landing on Ryugu delayed until January

Because of the roughness of the surface of Ryugu, the Hayabusa-2 science team has decided to delay the landing of the spacecraft on the asteroid from the end of this month until late January at the earliest.

JAXA project manager Yuichi Tsuda said they needed more time to prepare the landing as the latest data showed the asteroid surface was more rugged than expected.

“The mission … is to land without hitting rocks,” Tsuda said, adding this was a “most difficult” operation. “We had expected the surface would be smooth … but it seems there’s no flat area.”

.

This decision is a wise one. They will have the ability to land very precisely, and this will give them time to find the least risky spot. It does indicate however that the landing itself is going to be risky, which is probably why they want more time to gather data beforehand. Should the landing fail, the mission will essentially be over. This way they can maximize what they learn.

Share

Images of Mascot by Hayabusa released

MASCOT descending towards Ryugu

The Hayabusa-2 science team today released images taken of MASCOT as it descended to the surface of Ryugu, including images showing where it landed.

In the image on the right, reduced slightly to post here, you can see MASCOT as it slowly moves downward towards the asteroid shortly after its release from Hayabusa-2. At the link there is another image showing the mini-lander as a white dot when it was still about 115 feet above the surface. Other images show its location on the surface where it operated for seventeen hours and completed three hops.

The next big event from Hayabusa-2 will be the spacecraft’s own landing, sometime later this month.

Share

MASCOT ends its mission on Ryugu, as planned

Hayabusa-2’s mini-lander MASCOT has ended its mission on Ryugu after seventeen hours, slightly longer than the planned sixteen hours.

The lander made one hop, and successfully transmitted all its data back to Hayabusa-2, which still has one more mini-lander on board that will be sent to Ryugu’s surface, probably after Hayabusa-2 makes its own landing.

Meanwhile, the two Minerva-2 bouncers continue to operate on Ryugu.

Share

Hayabusa-2’s third mini-lander successfully lands on Ryugu

MASCOT image of Ryugu surface

Update: The image at right, reduced to post here, was taken by MASCOT during its descent. You can see the spacecraft’s shadow in the upper right. If you click on the image you can see the full resolution version.

Original post: The German/French-build mini-lander MASCOT has been successfully deployed by Hayabusa-2 and has successfully landed on the asteroid Ryugu.

MASCOT came to rest on the surface approximately 20 minutes after the separation. Now, the team is analysing the data that MASCOT is sending to Earth to understand the events occurring on the asteroid Ryugu. The lander should now be on the asteroid’s surface, in the correct position thanks to its swing arm, and have started to conduct measurements independently. There are four instruments on board: a DLR camera and radiometer, an infrared spectrometer from the Institut d’Astrophysique Spatiale and a magnetometer from the TU Braunschweig. Once MASCOT has performed all planned measurements, it is expected to hop to another measuring location. This is the first time that scientists will receive data from different locations on an asteroid.

The spacecraft took 20 pictures during its descent, which were beamed to Hayabusa-2 where they are presently stored.

Share

Deployment operations for Hayabusa-2’s MASCOT lander have begun

Engineers have begun the deployment sequence for Hayabusa-2’s MASCOT lander, with deployment planned for tomorrow.

Right now Hayabusa-2 is slowly moving closer to Ryugu, with live images appearing about once every half hour. More information about MASCOT can be found here. The lander can also hop like the MINERVA bouncers, but it can only do it once. Its battery life is about sixteen hours, so once it is deployed it will only operate on the surface for a short while.

Both the MINERVA and MASCOT mini-landers are mostly engineering tests for using small cubesat-sized spacecraft as probes. So far the MINERVA bouncers have been an unqualified success. Hopefully MASCOT will be as successfully.

Share

New images from Hayabusa-2’s mini-bouncers

Three press releases from the Hayabusa-2 science team last night provide new images from the spacecraft’s MINERVA bouncers, presently on the surface of Ryugu, as well as new high resolution images from Hayabusa-2 during its recent close-in maneuvers.

The images from the first story also includes a ten second movie showing a very rocky surface with the sun moving across the sky. The last link shows the primary landing site candidate with two backup sites.

All told, these images suggest that Ryugu is nothing more than a rubble pile stuck together. If it was heading to Earth, it might be difficult to deflect it, as it might break apart caused by any stress.

Share

Creeping into Ryugu

Ryugu

Cool images! As Hayabusu-2 creeps to its closest approach to Ryugu in preparation to releasing its first two mini-landers, dubbed MINERVA-II-1 and 2, the images coming down about once every half hour show the asteroid increasingly closer, with the spectacular shadow of Hayabusa-2 with its solar panels clearly visible.

The image on the right was downloaded about 10 pm (Pacific) tonight. The boulder-strewn field of Ryugu is also clearly visible. The black areas are where data has not yet been downloaded. The bright area under the shadow is merely an optical illusion.

UPDATE: A look at this webpage provides some details. When this image was taken the spacecraft was about 60 100 meters above the surface, its closest approach yet. This was also when the MINERVA-II landers were to be deployed.

All later images at the first link above were from a greater distance.

UPDATE: I have corrected the post. They released both MINERVA-II rovers, and they did it about 100 meters distance from the asteroid, not 60. We will not know the mini-landers’ status until late today.

Share

Hayabusa-2 sees its shadow

Ryugu, with Hayabusa-2's shadow

During its aborted landing rehearsal last week Hayabusa-2 imaged its own shadow as it approached within 600 meters of Ryugu.

The shadow is only a little dot on the surface of the asteroid, but to have resolved it is quite impressive. The image on the right has been annotated by me to indicate the shadow.

They have not said when they will do another landing rehearsal. Meanwhile, two of the spacecraft’s mini-landers are expected to be released sometime in the next few days.

Update: Based on the raw navigation images being released in real time from Hayabusa-2, the release of the MINERVA-II-1 has begun, with Hayabusa-2 moving in towards Ryugu in preparation for that release.

Share

Dress rehearsal of Hayabusa-2’s landing scrapped

The dress rehearsal of Hayabusa-2’s eventual landing on the asteroid Ryugu was cut short yesterday when the spacecraft found it could not get a reliable distance reading of the surface once it descended to 600 meters.

The problem was apparently due to the pitch black surface of the carbon-rich asteroid that made laser distance measurements difficult. JAXA says the Hayabusa 2 is in good condition, and the agency is considering changing landing procedures such as adjusting the configuration of measuring devices.

Despite the suspension, the altitude of 600 meters the explorer has descended to the asteroid is the closest ever recorded. JAXA had planned to bring down the probe to 30 meters and make detailed observations of a landing spot.

Just to clarify, this was a height record for Hayabusa-2 only.

Share

Hayabusa-2 scientists release updated landing schedule

The science team for Hayabusa-2 has released an updated landing schedule.

Two of the landers developed by the Japanese space agency will be deployed together by Hayabusa 2 on Sept. 21, and another landing probe provided by German and French scientists is set for its descent to Ryugu on Oct. 3.

Those landing attempts will be preceded by a landing rehearsal using the Hayabusa 2 spacecraft to approach within 100 feet (30 meters) of Ryugu next week. The spacecraft is scheduled to reach its closest point to the asteroid Sept. 12, low enough to fire and test its laser range finder, a navigation sensor to be used on future touch-and-go maneuvers to snag a sample of Ryugu for return to Earth.

Below is the very busy planetary probe schedule through January:

  • Week of September 12: Hayabusa-2 will do dress rehearsal of its Ryugu landing
  • September 21: Two of Hayabusa-2’s three Minerva-II mini-landers will land on Ryugu
  • October 3: Another Hayabusa-2 mini-lander, MASCOT, will land on Ryugu
  • October 3: The Parker Solar Probe makes first fly-by of Venus
  • Late October: Hayabusa-2 itself will land and grab a sample of Ryugu
  • November 26: The U.S. lander InSight will land on Mars.
  • December 3: OSIRIS-REx will arrive at the asteroid Bennu.
  • December: Chang’e-4 will land on the Moon’s far side.
  • January 1: New Horizons will fly past the Kuiper Belt object Ultima Thule.

During this time period Curiosity will also make two more drill attempts, and then resume its climb up Mount Sharp.

Share

Dates set for first landings on Ryugu

The science team for the Japanese probe Hayabusa-2 have set the dates for the first two landings on the asteroid Ryugu.

On 21 September, it will despatch the first of these piggybacked packages. A 3.3kg container known as Minerva II-1, which is mounted on the spacecraft, will deploy two robots known as Rover 1A and Rover 1B.

The 1kg “rovers” will actually move by hopping under the asteroid’s low gravity. Each one contains a motor-powered internal mass that rotates to generate force, propelling the robot across the surface. The rovers are equipped with wide-angle and stereo cameras to send back pictures from Ryugu.

Then, on 3 October, the mothership will deploy a lander called Mascot, which has been developed by the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in conjunction with the French Space Agency (CNES). Mascot, otherwise known as the Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout, is a 10kg instrument package that will gather a range of scientific data from the surface. It carries a wide-angle camera, a microscope to study the composition of minerals, a radiometer to measure temperature and a magnetometer to measure the magnetic field.

After it reaches the surface, Mascot can move its position only once, by jumping.

An earlier report had said that Hayabusa-2 would itself land late in October, but this report today leaves that landing date unstated.

Share

Hayabusa-2 science team lay out Ryugu landing schedule

At a press conference yesterday the Hayabusa-2 science team laid out their landing schedule for the spacecraft and its three tiny landers.

The first lander will be one of its two tiny MINERVA-II probes, and will take place in September. This will be followed by the German/French MASCOT probe in early October, followed in turn in late October by Hayabusa-2 itself.

The landings of the first two probes will help them pick Hayabusa-2’s landing site, as well as the site for last MINERVA lander.

Mission planners faced tough choices because the body almost uniformly strewn with boulders. “Ryugu is beautiful, but challenging,” said Aurélie Moussi, a collaborator from the French space agency CNES in Toulouse, at a press conference in Sagamihara, Japan, on 23 August.

…To minimize risks for MASCOT, mission planners mapped the topography of Ryugu and the distribution and size of the boulders on its surface. They ran computer simulations to produce a shortlist of ten options, and then picked one spot on the asteroid’s southern hemisphere. The choice reflected a number of criteria, including average temperatures on the ground and the materials that MASCOT will analyse with its four on-board instruments. “The other sites would have been just as good, or just as difficult,” says MASCOT payload manager Stephan Ulamec of the German Aerospace Center in Cologne. “Wherever we look, there is a lot of big boulders.”

It does appear that the boulder-strewn surface is posing a problem for the engineers.

Share

No water as yet detected on Ryugu

The Hayabusa-2 science team today said that their first preliminary survey of Ryugu has yet to detect evidence of water.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said Aug. 2 that data collected from the space probe showed no water on the boulders scattered on the surface of Ryugu.

Ryugu is a C-type asteroid, which is rich in carbon. Many C-type asteroids are known to contain moisture in their surface boulders, and experts hoped that Ryugu would be one of them.

Hayabusa-2’s visit has just begun. I still expect surprises.

Share

Ryugu as seen by Hayabusa-2 from less than 4 miles

Ryugu from less than 4 miles distance

The image on the right as a cropped section of an image taken by Hayabusa-2 from only 3.7 miles distance from the asteroid Ryugu. If you click on the link you can see the full image. I picked this section to crop out because it shows the asteroid’s limb, an interesting boulder field, and part of a the asteroid’s largest crater, on the lower right. As noted by the Hayabusa-2 science team in describing details in the full image:

The resolution in Figure 1 is about 3.4 times higher than the images taken from the Home Position [20 kilometers distance] so far. 1 pixel in Figure 1 corresponds to about 60cm. The largest crater on the surface of Ryugu is situated near the center of the image and you can see that it has a shape like a “mortar”. You can also see that the surface of Ryugu is covered with a large number of boulders. This picture will provide important information as we choose the landing site.

The smallest objects visible are thus about two feet across.

Share

Hayabusa-2 finds Ryugu covered with scattered large boulders

Hayabusa-2 has found that the asteroid Ryugu is covered with many scattered large boulders.

The Hayabusa 2 space probe discovered many boulders scattered on the asteroid Ryugu, suggesting it was formed from fragments of other celestial bodies, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said July 19. More than 100 rocks larger than 8 meters in length were confirmed on the surface of the “spinning top” asteroid from images captured by Hayabusa 2, according to JAXA. The largest boulder was about 130 meters in length near the south pole.

The rocks are likely too big to be meteor fragments from collisions with Ryugu, which has a diameter of about 900 meters. “(The finding) is compelling evidence to prove that the Ryugu asteroid was formed by fragments of larger celestial bodies,” said Seiichiro Watanabe, head of the study team and professor of Nagoya University.

The asteroid’s slightly tilted axis of rotation gives Ryugu two seasons: summer and winter. Hayabusa 2 found the temperature ranged from about 20 to 100 degrees on Ryugu’s surface.

Surprise! This finding makes Ryugu very different from every other asteroid previously visited. Most have had relatively smooth surfaces, with lots of dust.

Share

3D image of Ryugu

The lead guitarist of the rock band Queen, Brian May, is also an astronomer, and he has taken Hayabusa-2’s first full close-up image of Ryugu and produced a 3D image of the asteroid.

If you have red/blue 3D glasses you should definitely click on the link and view the image. The asteroid appears much more elongated back to front than it appears in the flat image.

Share

Hayabusa-2 officially completes rendezvous with Ryugu

Japan’s Hayabusa-2 probe has officially completed its rendezvous with Ryugu, and is now flying about 12 miles above its surface.

Now comes the really hard part, finding landing locations for its MASCOT lander, its three other tiny rovers, and for Hayabusa-2 itself, so it can grab its sample for the return journey.

Share

Ryugu from 25 miles

Ryugu from 25 miles

The Hayabusa-2 science team has released its first image of Ryugu, posted to the right, from a distance of only 25 miles. From the project manager:

The shape of Ryugu is now revealed. From a distance, Ryugu initially appeared round, then gradually turned into a square before becoming a beautiful shape similar to fluorite [known as the ‘firefly stone’ in Japanese]. Now, craters are visible, rocks are visible and the geographical features are seen to vary from place to place. This form of Ryugu is scientifically surprising and also poses a few engineering challenges.

First of all, the rotation axis of the asteroid is perpendicular to the orbit. This fact increases the degrees of freedom for landing and the rover decent operations. On the other hand, there is a peak in the vicinity of the equator and a number of large craters, which makes the selection of the landing points both interesting and difficult. Globally, the asteroid also has a shape like fluorite (or maybe an abacus bead?). This means we expect the direction of the gravitational force on the wide areas of the asteroid surface to not point directly down. We therefore need a detailed investigation of these properties to formulate our future operation plans.

They are going to have to spend some time in orbit to figure out not only where to land, but how to do it. More information on the mission can be found here.

Share

Ryugu seen from 150-200 miles

Ryugu from 150 milesl

Cool image time! Hayabusa-2’s approach to asteroid Ryugu continues. The image to the right, cropped to post here, shows one of four images taken by the spacecraft on June 17 and June 18. In this image the distance is about 150 miles. As noted in the Hayabusa-2 press release,

The shape of the asteroid looks like a spinning top (called a “Coma” in Japanese), with the equatorial part wider than the poles. This form is seen in many small asteroids that are rotating at high speed. Observed by radar from the ground, asteroid Bennu (the destination of the US mission, OSIRIS-REx), asteroid Didymous (the target of the US DART project), and asteroid 2008 EV5 that is approaching the Earth, all have a similar shape.

On the surface of asteroid Ryugu, you can see a number of crater-like round recessed landforms. In the first image, one large example can be seen with a diameter exceeding 200m. This moves to the left and darkens as the asteroid rotates and the lower part becomes cast in shadows.

The bulge at the equator forms a ridge around the asteroid like a mountain range. Outside this, the surface topology appears very ridge-shaped and rock-like bulges are also seen. These details should become clearer as the resolution increases in the future.

Based on the visible landforms, they presently estimate Ryugu’s rotation period to be about 7.5 hours.

Share

Hayabusa-2 takes first photos of target asteroid Ryugu

On June 10 Hayabusa-2 took its first photos of Ryugu, the asteroid it will reach later this month.

The Sunday photos were taken when Hayabusa2 was about 930 miles (1,500 kilometers) from Ryugu. Last week, JAXA released a few ONC-T images taken on June 6, when the probe was 1,615 miles (2,600 km) from the space rock.

Hayabusa2, which launched in December 2014, is scheduled to arrive at Ryugu on or around June 27. At that time, the probe will begin orbiting the asteroid at an altitude of about 12 miles (20 km), JAXA officials have said.

Hayabusa2 will then start prepping for a series of complex, up-close studies of the space rock. If all goes according to plan, over the ensuing 12 months, the spacecraft will deploy three rovers and a lander on Ryugu’s surface, gouge out a small crater using an explosives-bearing impactor, and collect samples from the newly created crater.

The spacecraft will depart Ryugu in November or December 2019, and its collected samples will come back to Earth in a special return capsule in late 2020.

The image suggests that the asteroid is “not significantly elongated.”

Share