Japan Plans Sample Return from Martian Moons

MMX on-orbit configuration (Credit: JAXA)

Japan is planning a complex mission that will study the moons of Mars and return soil samples to Earth.

Set for launch in September 2024, the Martian Moons Exploration (MMX) mission would spend three years exploring Phobos and Deimos before departing in August 2028 for a return to Earth 11 months later.

“The primary mission objective is to distinguish between the two leading hypotheses for the origin of Phobos and Deimos,” JAXA says on its website. “The first of these suggests the moons are captured primitive asteroids, while the second proposes that they are the agglomerated fragments of a giant impact event on Mars.

“The second objective is to characterise the conditions on and around the moons,” the website adds. “This includes surface processes on Phobos and Deimos, the nature of the circum-Martian environment (the region where objects orbit around the planet) and the global and temporal dynamics of Mars’s atmosphere, such as dust, ice, clouds and water vapour.”

MMX launch configuration (Credit: JAXA)

The nominal science payloads include:

  • neutron and gamma-ray spectrometer
  • wide angle multi-band camera
  • near-infrared spectrometer
  • telescopic camera
  • light detection and ranging
  • circum-Martian dust monitor
  • mass spectrum analyzer.
Martian moon Phobos

The mission is being undertaken by the Japanese space agency, JAXA, and Japan’s Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS).

On April 10, JAXA President Naoki Okumura and CNES President Jean-Yves Le Gall signed an agreement to collaborate on the MMX program.

CNES will share technical expertise on flight dynamics and the development of a small lander and near-infrared spectrometer.

JAXA’s Hayabusa spacecraft returned a sample from the surface of asteroid 25143 Itokawa in June 2010.

In December 2014, the Hayabusa2 was launched to asteroid 162173 Ryugu; it is set to return to Earth with a soil sample in December 2020.