Updates JAXA-NASA: Mars Moons eXploration (MMX)

Nicholas Kang

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Apr 3, 2016
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Artist’s concept of Japan’s Mars Moons eXploration (MMX) spacecraft, carrying a NASA instrument to study the Martian moons Phobos and Deimos Credits: JAXA/NASA

Official website (JAXA): http://mmx.isas.jaxa.jp/en/

Twitter link: https://twitter.com/mmx_jaxa_en

JAXA plan to launch the orbiter in early 2020s. In order to retrieve the samples, the spacecraft will need to complete a roundtrip to Mars, circle around the moon and land on its surface. The most complex and risky parts of this mission are the operations around the moons and the descent and landing. These heavily constrain the system design and have involved an in-depth study from the earliest stages of the mission.

The primary mission objective is to distinguish between the two leading hypotheses for the origin of Phobos and Deimos. The first of these suggests the moons are captured primitive asteroids, while the second proposes that they are the agglomerated fragments of a giant impact event on Mars.
The second objective is to characterise the conditions on and around the moons. This includes surface processes on Phobos and Deimos, the nature of the circum-Martian environment (the region where objects orbit around the planet) and the global and temporal dynamics of Mars’s atmosphere, such as dust, ice, clouds and water vapour.

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Objective and Science:

Preliminary Mission Schedule:

Launch: September 2024
Mars Arrival: August 2025
Mars Departure: August 2028
Return to Earth: July 2029


To reveal the origin of Phobos and Deimos
Understand processes in the circum-Martian environment




Nominal Science Payload:

Neutron and Gamma-ray Spectrometer (NGRS)
Wide Angle Multiband Camera (WAM)
Near-Infrared Spectrometer (NIRS)
Telescopic Camera (TL)
Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR)
Circum-Martian Dust Monitor (CMDM)
Mass Spectrum Analyzer (MSA)

Latest News:

NASA Selects Instrument for Future International Mission to Martian Moons

NASA has selected a science instrument for an upcoming Japan-led sample return mission to the moons of Mars planned for launch in 2024. The instrument, a sophisticated neutron and gamma-ray spectrograph, will help scientists resolve one of the most enduring mysteries of the Red Planet -- when and how the small moons formed.

The Mars Moons eXploration (MMX) mission is in development by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). MMX will visit the two Martian moons, Phobos and Deimos, land on the surface of Phobos, and collect a surface sample. Plans are for the sample to be returned to Earth in 2029. NASA is supporting the development of one of the spacecraft’s suite of seven science instruments.


The selected instrument, named MEGANE (pronounced meh-gah-nay, meaning “eyeglasses” in Japanese), will be developed by a team led by David Lawrence of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland. MEGANE will give MMX the ability to “see” the elemental composition of Phobos, by measuring the energies of neutrons and gamma-rays emitted from the small moon. The elementary particles are emitted naturally as a result of the high-energy cosmic rays and solar energetic particles that continually strike and penetrate the surface of Phobos.

MEGANE will be developed under NASA’s Discovery Program, which provides frequent, low-cost access to space using principal investigator-led space science investigations relevant to SMD’s planetary science program.

“We’ll see the composition of the region from which MMX collects its sample,” said Thomas Statler, program scientist for MMX at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “This will help us better understand what we discover in the laboratory when the mission returns the sample to Earth for analysis.”