The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) plans to explore the satellites of Mars in the 2020s. The goal is to take samples from the surfaces of the moons so that researchers can study the origin of these objects.
It is known that in the coming decades, the world's largest space agencies intend to send a bunch of interesting missions to the Moon and Mars. NASA, Roskosmos, ESA, the Chinese National Space Agency, India – there is no shortage of proposals for the creation of lunar bases, sending manned missions to Mars and robotic vehicles.
But the Japanese Aerospace Agency (JAXA) decided to outline a different path in the coming decades. Instead of exploring the Moon or Mars, in Japan decided to engage in satellites of Mars. The Mission for the Study of the Martian Moons (MMX) poses the task of sending a robotic device to Phobos and Deimos to examine their surfaces and return samples to Earth for analysis.
The spacecraft will be deployed in the 2020s, and it will be entrusted with the fulfillment of two main tasks. The first is to help scientists determine the origin of Phobos and Deimos, whose subject has long been controversial. While some believe that these satellites capture asteroids, others say they were created when fragments thrown from Mars (because of giant impacts on the surface) came together.
Dr. Masaki Fujimoto, Professor of Space and Astronautical Sciences JAXA, says the following:
"MMX will land on Phobos and collect samples of at least 10 grams from a distance of more than 2 cm below the surface. The analysis of the samples returned to Earth will clarify the nature of the asteroid that led to the formation of this moon. The observations of Deimos will be limited to visualization in flight, but in combination with ground data to be obtained from Phobos, we will be able to accurately determine the origin of both satellites. "
The second task will be devoted to characterization of conditions on the satellites of Mars and around them. This will include surface processes on Phobos and Deimos, the nature of the environment in which they rotate, as well as the global and temporal dynamics of the atmosphere of Mars – that is, dust, clouds and water vapor.
"Airless bodies like asteroids are prone to cosmic weathering processes," says Dr. Fujimoto. "In the case of Phobos, a shock event on the surface emits a lot of dust particles. Unlike an asteroid in the interplanetary space, the dust particles will not simply be lost, but go to the orbit of Mars, return and fall again on the surface of Phobos. This is considered the reason for the presence of Phobos thick regolith layer. Understanding this process is useful in analyzing returned samples. "
Another important mission of the mission is to learn more about small bodies coming from the outer solar system. Being the outermost solid planet, Mars represents the boundary between planets of the terrestrial type – with hard surfaces and a variable atmosphere – and gas and ice giants of the outer solar system, which have atmospheres with high density.
For this reason, the study of the satellites of Mars, the determination of their origin and, in general, the extraction of information about the orbital environment of Mars can tell us a great deal about the evolution of the solar system. This mission not only provides an opportunity to understand how the planets of the Mars type are formed, but also the process of moving these primary materials between the inner and outer parts of the solar system at the early stages of its development:
"These small bodies were capsules delivering water from outside the frost line into the potentially inhabited zone of the solar system, where our planet was. The land was born dry and needed water supplies so that life would begin on it. Most likely, one of the unsuccessful supplies ended with the formation of Phobos, and the analysis of the samples will tell us more about this lost capsule. "
To date, the probe is scheduled for launch in September 2024 – then Earth and Mars will be closest to each other in orbit. By 2025, the probe will reach Mars and begin a three-year test period, and then return to Earth by July 2029. After that, he will rely on a set of scientific tools for research and sampling.
Among the tools will be a neutron and gamma spectrometer (NGRS), a near infrared spectrometer (NIRS), a wide-angle multi-range camera (WAM), a telescopic camera (TL), a near-Martian dust monitor (CMDM), a mass spectrometer (MSA) and LIDAR.
If everything goes according to plan, JAXA will spend the next ten years studying the information received during the lunar and martian missions. Lunar research will tell about the history of the Moon, and the Martian ones will tell about the geology and evolution of Mars (and, probably, life on the Red Planet). The MMX mission will tell the story of the Martian moons and the early solar system as a whole.