Enlarge /. An image of Phobos taken by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
NASA / JPL-Caltech / University of Arizona
The Japanese space agency has completed a plan to send a probe to the Martian moons Phobos and Deimos. This includes an ambitious lander who collects samples from Phobos to return to Earth.
The agency JAXA presented the plan to the country's Ministry of Science on Wednesday, the Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported. The official account of Martian Moons Exploration (MMX) also announced on Twitter that it has officially moved from design to the "development" phase. The space agency estimated the total cost of the mission at $ 417 million.
The current plan is to launch the probe on an H-3 missile in 2024, a new booster built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and expected to debut by the end of this year or 2021. The MMX spacecraft would enter orbit around Mars in 2025 and return to Earth in 2029.
Japan has experience with missions similar to small bodies in the solar system. The Hayabusa-2 probe has successfully picked up material from the surface of the asteroid Ryugu and is expected to return the asteroid samples to Earth later this year. With a diameter of only 23 km, Phobos has a surface gravity that is about a thousandth of that of the Earth.
The MMX team has already announced that it is working with the German and French space agencies on a similar small country as Hayabusa-2 for the Mars mission.
No spaceship has yet flown to Mars to examine its small moons, and no material has ever been collected from them. Scientists would like to examine the surface of a moon other than the Earth's companion to better understand the formation of terrestrial planets. It is also important for Phobos and Deimos to understand whether they are captured asteroids or fragments of the red planet that were ejected during an old impact.
The detailing of the surface of Phobos is also important, as it is possible that the first human missions to Mars land there and not on the surface of Mars. With its much smaller source of gravity, it would be much easier for astronauts to leave Phobos for the return journey to Earth than on the surface of Mars.