Tokyo: Japanese space agency JAXA is gearing up for an ambitious unmanned space expedition to explore Phobos, one of the two moons that orbit Mars.
What makes the Martian Moons Exploration (MMX) exciting is that it is intended to be a sample return mission, reported The Verge.
The JAXA Twitter page recently announced that it has initiated the development phase of the project.
According to The Verge, MMX is supposed to be launched in the year 2024.
The probe will orbit and survey both of Mars’s moons, namely Phobos and Deimos, and create detailed maps of the two celestial bodies.
At the same time, MMX will land a rover on Phobos that’ll be tasked with collecting samples alongside other scientific experiments.
If all goes well, the spacecraft will return to Earth in 2029 with the soil samples.
Phobos has been a subject of interest for scientists for many years as it can be the first stepping stone for human missions to Mars.
An announcement on the JAXA website quoted NASA chief scientist Jim Green, who explained: “Humans can realistically explore the surfaces of only a few objects and Phobos and Deimos are on that list. Their position orbiting about Mars may make them a prime target for humans to visit first before reaching the surface of the Red Planet, but that will only be possible after the results of the MMX mission have been completed.”
The two previous attempts to nail a landing on Phobos have ended up in failure.
The Soviet Phobos 2 from 1988 bombed out as its computer glitched right before it was about to release its lander and rover on the Martian moon’s surface.
Even worse, the Russian Phobos-Grunt from 2011 barely made out of Earth’s orbit and crashed into the Pacific ocean about a year later.