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Japan’s mission to explore the moons of Mars gets the green light

Japan is moving ahead with plans to land a spacecraft on Phobos, one of the moons of Mars. If this succeeds, the mission would be the first time a country has hit the surface of the Mars Moon and possibly the first return flight to the Mars system.

The Japanese space agency JAXA, announced today that the Martian Moons Exploration (MMX) project had officially entered the development phase. This means that the team will work on the hardware and software for the mission prior to a planned launch in 2024.

MMX will start somewhere in 2024 and arrive on Mars around 2025. It will spend the next three years examining both Mars, Phobos and Deimos moons, and make detailed maps of their surfaces. During that time, MMX will also land on Phobos and take a sample that digs at least two centimeters into the surface. The team too intends to include a robber to jump around on the surface, similar to the one that was released on an asteroid in 2018. The spacecraft will be equipped with 11 instruments that perform detailed measurements throughout the mission. If all goes well, the mission returns to Earth with the monster of Phobos by 2029.

Phobos is an intriguing target for planetary scientists. Researchers still don’t know for sure whether Phobos and Deimos are asteroids caught by the gravity of Mars or whether they were formed after something big crashed on the planet. The new mission can help answer these questions.

People are also interested in Phobos as a springboard for future human missions to Mars. “People can realistically explore the surfaces of just a few objects and Phobos and Deimos are on that list,” said Jim Green, NASA chief scientist, in the JAXA announcement. “Their position around orbit around Mars can make them a first target for people to visit before they reach the surface of the Red Planet, but that will only be possible after the results of the MMX mission have been completed.”

NASA will contribute two instruments to the MMX mission: one that can analyze elements on the lunar surface and a “pneumatic sampling device”. NASA researchers have been discussing missions to Phobos for years, including manned missions. A paper from a workshop from 2007 hoped that human missions to the Martians will help to get it and keep it People up to Mars ball Roll sooner than is otherwise possible. ”

MMX can help get that ball rolling again. Hopefully it will be more successful than its predecessors. In 1988, the Soviet spacecraft Phobos 2 was set to send both a robber and a lander to the surface of the moon. Unfortunately the computer did not work just before it was planned to send its explorers, and the mission was considered a failure. The last attempt to land something on Phobos didn’t get any better: the Russian Phobos-Grunt mission launched in 2011, but did not pass the orbit of the earth. Instead, it collapsed back into the Pacific in 2012.