Japan’s space agency JAXA has approved a mission that will, if successful, achieve a new milestone for human space exploration. The agency will launch the Martian Moon eXploration (MMX) mission in 2024, assuming everything goes according to schedule, with the goal of plucking a sample from the Martian moon Phobos. After studying the moons, MMX will return to Earth in 2029 carrying the small sample of Martian moon dust.
The mission was announced on the JAXA website this week, where the team behind the mission explains that MMX is now an official JAXA Project. This represents a milestone for the mission, which was previously in a pre-project development phase. Now the MMX spacecraft is scheduled to launch during Japan’s Financial Year (FY) 2024.
MMX will be tasked with studying Mars’ two moons: Deimos and Phobos. The latter moon will have a special role in this mission, however, with JAXA explaining that the spacecraft will land on Phobos for ‘several hours’ in order to acquire at least 10 grams of surface material using a coring device.
Once the study of the two moons is complete and the sample has been acquired, JAXA says the MMX spacecraft will turn around and come back to Earth, bringing the surface sample with it. This will represent the first time a space agency has acquired and returned a sample from the Martian system to our planet.
The MMX mission will feature 11 instruments including MEGANE, a NASA-funded tool designed to measure the elemental composition of each moon. As well, a small rover will be deposited on Phobos, where it will travel around and acquire data. The information will hopefully shed light on the origin of these two oddly-shaped and small moons. JAXA explains, “A main mission goal for MMX is to decipher the origin of the moons by remote examination and returning a sample for compositional analysis.”