Japan’s Mission to Phobos Will Also Bring a Sample Home by 2029

Phobos, the larger of Mars' two moons, with the Stickney crater seen on the right side. Credit: HiRISE, MRO, LPL (U. Arizona), NASA

Japan’s space agency (JAXA) is gearing up for its Martian Moons eXploration (MMX) mission, with plans to have a sample from Mars’ moon Phobos return to Earth by 2029.  Mission scientists say they hope to find clues to the origins of Mars two moons, as well as Mars itself, and possibly even traces of past life.

“We think that the Martian moon, Phobos, is loaded with material lifted from Mars during meteorite impacts,” the MMX team said on Twitter. “By collecting this Phobos sample, MMX will help investigate traces of Martian life and the new era of Martian habitability exploration in the 2020s will begin.”

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Evidence that Mars Used to Have a Ring

An illustration of Mars with a debris ring. Image Credit: SETI

Mars only has two moons: Phobos and Deimos. They’re strange, for moons, little more than lumpy, potato-shaped chunks of rock. They’re much too small for self-gravitation to have made them round. And one of them, Deimos, has an unusually tilted orbit.

What does that slight tilt tell us about Deimos? About Mars?

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Japan Is Sending a Lander to Phobos

Artist impression of the MMX spacecraft. Credit: JAXA.

Sending a mission to moons of Mars has been on the wish list for mission planners and space enthusiasts for quite some time. For the past few years, however, a team of Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) engineers and scientists have been working on putting such a mission together. Now, JAXA announced this week that the Martian Moon eXploration (MMX) mission has been greenlighted to move forward, with the goal of launching an orbiter, lander — and possibly a rover — with sample return capability in 2024.

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New Japanese mission will be going to the Moons of Mars

Artist's impression of the Mars Moons Exploration (MMX) spacecraft. Credit: JAXA

In the coming decades, the world’s largest space agencies hope to mount some exciting missions to the Moon and to Mars. Between NASA, Roscosmos, the European Space Agency (ESA), the Chinese National Space Agency (CNSA) and the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), there is simply no shortage of proposals for Lunar bases, crewed missions to Mars, and robotic explorers to both.

However, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has a different mission in mind when it comes to the coming decades. Instead of exploring the Moon or Mars, they propose exploring the moons of Mars! Known as the Martian Moons Exploration (MMX) mission, the plan is to have a robotic spacecraft fly to Phobos and Deimos to explore their surfaces and return samples to Earth for analysis.

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