Japan targeting Phobos which is one of Mars' moons for new sample-return mission

Japan's upcoming space mission will collect samples from the Martian moon Phobos to learn more about the formation of the Red Planet

Japan's space agency is currently planning to launch a new mission that will explore Phobos, which is one of Mars' moons. Aside from visiting the natural satellite, the mission will also bring back samples from Phobos.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's (JAXA) new mission is called Martian Moon Exploration (MMX). Its main objective is to learn about Mars' formation and history through samples taken from its moon.

Moving Forward With The MMX Mission

The High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter took two images of the larger of Mars' two moons, Phobos, within 10 minutes of each other on March 23, 2008. NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

According to JAXA, MMX became an official project last week after all parameters of the expedition were determined. As an official project of Japan's space agency, scientists involved in the MMX will now focus on developing the programs and new technologies that will be used to explore Phobos.

"The mission was previously in the Pre-Project phase, where the focus was on research and analysis, such as simulating landings to improve spacecraft design," JAXA said in a statement. "The focus will now move onto the development of mission hardware and software."

Details Of JAXA's Mission To Phobos

Mars moons
Phobos and Deimos, the moons of Mars, are seen in this movie put together from 19 images taken by the Mars Odyssey orbiter's Thermal Emission Imaging System, or THEMIS, camera. The images were taken in visible-wavelength light. THEMIS also recorded thermal-infrared imagery in the same scan. The apparent motion is due to progression of the camera's pointing during the 17-second span of the February 15, 2018, observation, not from motion of the two moons.(NASA) NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/SSI

JAXA plans to officially launch MMX sometime in 2024. The agency expects the mission to reach Mars' orbit in 2025. Once it has reached the Red Planet's neighbourhood, the MMX spacecraft will visit the moons Phobos and Deimos. According to JAXA, the mission will only collect samples from Phobos.

After carrying out its mission, the MMX spacecraft will then return to Earth to deliver the samples taken from the Red Planet's moon. These samples will most likely be analyzed in top laboratories in different parts of the world.

Learning About The History Of Mars

As noted by JAXA, studying the composition of Phobos will provide valuable information regarding its formation and the history of Mars. Since it is believed that Phobos and Deimos were formed after a large cosmic body collided with the Red Planet, the moon might have physical characteristics that are similar to those of the Red Planet during its formation.

"Observing the moons will, therefore, provide information on the evolution of the Martian surface," JAXA explained. "Moreover, if the moons were formed during a collision between Mars and gigantic asteroids, the moon material will reveal the original conditions on Mars during this early time, offering insights into the planet's formation and its young environment."

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