Manned space, Mascot and Hayabusa2

While NASA waits for the Russians to test and reprove their launch vehicle for putting astronauts/cosmonauts on the International Space Station (the last flight was aborted and the two crew safely returned to Earth) ... the crew of three in orbit will have to extend their stay for at least four months. Why? Because the ISS cannot be left unattended, it would fall or destabilize in orbit. 

Boeing and SpaceX meanwhile officially delayed their manned test flights until later in 2019 and do not expect to be ready to replace the Russians until 2020. In short, our manned program is in deep trouble, waiting on Russian testing on what went wrong.

Some time ago Hayabusa was launched by the Japanese and it orbited, yes orbited, the asteroid Itokawa. Oh, and then it settled on the surface and collected samples and returned them to Earth. Launched in 2003, it came back with the very first samples of anything beyond Earth’s orbit in 2010.

So? Well the German Aerospace Center designed Mascot and launched it, piggyback, on another Japanese mission Hayabusa2 towards Ryugu – a rock in space that is considered possibly dangerous for Earth. Ryugu is about a half mile in diameter. 

Hayabusa reached Ryugu about a six months ago and has been orbiting the asteroid. Meanwhile, the shoebox-sized Mascot reached Ryugu and hopped across its surface, collecting data and making tests. Mascot carries instruments: MASCAM, a radiometer also built by the German Aerospace Center, a magnetometer built by the Technical University of Braunschweig and an infrared spectrometer from the French space agency, CNES.

And the kicker to all this activity? Hayabusa2 is set, this month, to descent all the way to Ryugu’s surface to collect samples, three times from three places and then — you guessed it — return to Earth by 2021. Oh, and the next mission for the Japanese Space Agency? Mar’s moon Phobos in late 2024. And why? Pure science, commercial possibilities in mineral extraction in the coming decades and, as always, ad explorata.


Peter Riva, a former resident of Amenia Union, now lives in New Mexico.