MMX Martian Moon Mission
The Red Planet is home to two peculiar moons, Phobos and Deimos, whose origins and compositions remain elusive. Japan’s upcoming Martian Moons eXploration (MMX) spacecraft mission aims to unravel these cosmic enigmas by drilling into Phobos and bringing back invaluable samples. Scheduled for launch in 2024 the MMX mission is a collaborative effort between Japan, Europe, and the United States. The spacecraft is equipped with nearly a dozen scientific instruments, including two sampling mechanisms – the Corer Sampler and Pneumatic Sampler – designed to collect material from Phobos. Additionally, a German-French rover will be deployed to explore Phobos’ surface autonomously, assisting in selecting specimens for the spacecraft to retrieve.
Phobos, the larger of the two Martian moons, orbits the Red Planet three times a day in a microgravity environment. The MMX spacecraft faces the challenge of landing on a surface whose properties are still unknown – whether it’s hard enough to land on or soft and fluffy remains uncertain. The mission’s ambitious goal is to answer the fundamental question of whether Phobos and Deimos are captured asteroids or remnants of a massive impact on Mars, shedding light on the solar system’s origin and evolution. The MMX mission incorporates cutting-edge technology, such as the GAmma-rays and NEutrons (MEGANE) spectrometer, to analyze Phobos’ elemental composition. Scientists like Terik Daly from Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory anticipate that the mission’s success will not only provide insights into the Martian moons but also contribute to our understanding of the broader solar system. With a return to Earth planned for 2029, the MMX mission represents a significant leap forward in planetary science, building on the success of Japan’s previous Hayabusa and Hayabusa2 missions to near-Earth asteroids.