Japanese spacecraft to carry European rover to martian moon

A notional rendering of a small rover exploring one of Mars’ two moons after delivery by a Japanese spacecraft. Image: CNES

The Japanese Martian Moons eXploration mission, or MMX, will carry a German-French rover to one of the red planet’s two moons in 2024. The spacecraft will slip into orbit around Mars in 2025 and deploy a lander that will target either Phobos or Deimos, exploring the surface in unprecedented detail to learn more about the formation and evolution of the solar system.

An agreement to include the rover in the MMX mission was announced at the Paris Air Show in Le Bourget by officials representing the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA), the French Space Agency (CNES) and the German Aerospace Center (DLR).

“The world-first exploration of the Martian moons with a rover is a major technical challenge that we are tackling within the framework of our strong and proven partnership with Japan and France,” said Pascale Ehrenfreund, chairman of the DLR Executive Board. “Together, we want to push the boundaries of what is technically feasible in robotic exploration and expand our knowledge about the origin of the solar system.”

DLR is responsible for developing the rover’s body and its robotic locomotion system, along with a spectrometer and a radiometer that will help determine the composition of the martian moon’s surface material. The French space agency is developing cameras and the rover’s service module. The robot will be operated jointly by DLR and CNES.

The MMX mission will follow Japan’s successful Hyabusa2, which has been carrying out close-range observations of the asteroid Ryugu for the past year, deploying a series of small landers and moving in to collect samples for return to Earth in 2020. The MMX spacecraft will attempt to collect surface samples from Phobos by deploying a small lander that will use pressurised gas to stir up and capture surface material.