Image: Landing on an asteroid

February 10, 2016
Credit: ESA - ScienceOffice.org

This is the micro-lander that ESA's proposed Asteroid Impact Mission would put down on its target asteroid.

The asteroid body in question is just 170 m in diameter – the smaller body of the binary Didymos system – so roughly the same size as the Great Pyramid of Giza. It orbits just 1.2 km above the larger 800-m diameter primary Didymos asteroid (shown in the background here), to complete a circuit every 12 hours.

Around the size of a microwave oven, the micro-lander would be ESA's first lander on a small body since Rosetta's Philae lander touched down on Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko in November 2014.

The asteroid lander, named Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout-2 (MASCOT-2), is under study by the German Aerospace Center DLR. MASCOT-1 is a lander already on board Japan's Hayabusa 2 mission, which was launched on 3 December 2014 to reach its target asteroid in 2018.

Like its predecessor, MASCOT-2 would carry a compact wide-angle camera and a radiometer for close-up examination of the asteroid surface.

In addition, MASCOT-2 would be equipped with a low-frequency radar to help probe the interior of the asteroid it rests on – with AIM picking up the radar signals from the asteroid's far side. Accelerometers will record full details of its impact with the surface, while solar panels should give the micro-lander at least three months of working life.

AIM, currently undergoing detailed design work in preparation for a 'go/no go' decision at the end of this year, would be humanity's first mission to a double asteroid system.

NASA's own Double Asteroid Redirection Test probe, or DART, will impact the same asteroid, with AIM providing detailed before-and-after mapping to help assess the effects and test planetary defence techniques. The two missions together are known as the Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment (AIDA) mission.

ESA has teamed up with the organisers of the annual Asteroid Day on 30 June to increase public awareness of potential impacts with Earth, and the importance of increasing our knowledge about these small bodies.

Explore further: CubeSats offered deep-space ride on ESA asteroid probe

Related Stories

Image: AIM's asteroid lander

April 15, 2015

Engineers recently began the preliminary design of ESA's Asteroid Impact Mission mission concept and are including a lander. If the mission comes to fruition touchdown would occur in late 2022.

AIDA double mission to divert Didymos asteroid's Didymoon

September 30, 2015

An ambitious joint US-European mission, called AIDA, is being planned to divert the orbit of a binary asteroid's small moon, as well as to give us new insights into the structure of asteroids. A pair of spacecraft, the ESA-led ...

Recommended for you

Rosetta captures comet outburst

August 25, 2016

In unprecedented observations made earlier this year, Rosetta unexpectedly captured a dramatic comet outburst that may have been triggered by a landslide.

ALMA finds unexpected trove of gas around larger stars

August 25, 2016

Astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) surveyed dozens of young stars—some Sun-like and others approximately double that size—and discovered that the larger variety have surprisingly ...

35 years on, Voyager's legacy continues at Saturn

August 25, 2016

Saturn, with its alluring rings and numerous moons, has long fascinated stargazers and scientists. After an initial flyby of Pioneer 11 in 1979, humanity got a second, much closer look at this complex planetary system in ...

Rocky planet found orbiting habitable zone of nearest star

August 24, 2016

An international team of astronomers including Carnegie's Paul Butler has found clear evidence of a planet orbiting Proxima Centauri, the closest star to our Solar System. The new world, designated Proxima b, orbits its cool ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.