from the this-time-for-sure dept.
Japan's space agency has approved a robotic mission to retrieve a sample from the Martian moon Phobos for return to Earth to begin full development for a planned launch in 2024, officials said Thursday.
The Martian Moon eXploration, or MMX, spacecraft will attempt to return the first specimens from Phobos for analysis in laboratories on Earth, where scientists hope to trace the origins of the Martian moons to determine whether they were asteroids captured by Mars, or if they formed out of rocky debris generated from an ancient impact on Mars.
[...] The probe will land on Phobos and snare at least 10 grams, or about a third of an ounce, of material from the moon's surface using a coring collection system before taking off again. MMX will also release a German-French rover to explore the terrain and chemical composition of Phobos for roughly three months.
MMX will perform several close flybys of Deimos, the smaller of Mars's two moons, before departing the orbit of Mars in 2028 on a course back to Earth, where a sample return carrier will re-enter the atmosphere and land containing specimens gathered at Phobos. The MMX spacecraft's return to Earth in 2029 would complete the first round-trip voyage to Mars and back, JAXA said.
NASA has signed an agreement with the Japanese government that brings the agencies closer to finalizing Japan's roles in the Artemis program.
The agreement, called a Joint Exploration Declaration of Intent, was signed late July 9 in a virtual meeting between NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, in the United States, and Koichi Hagiuda, Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology in the Japanese government, in Japan.
"Today's signing of this declaration of intent builds on the long history of successful cooperation between the U.S. and Japan in space," Bridenstine said in a brief statement about the agreement. "We appreciate Japan's strong support for Artemis and look forward to extending the robust partnership that we have enjoyed on the International Space Station to cislunar space, the lunar surface, and beyond."
Neither government released the text of the declaration, but they described the document as outlining roles for Japan in both human and robotic exploration. That would include contributions to the lunar Gateway and lunar surface exploration.