Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Martian Moons eXploration (MMX) mission

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Martian Moons eXploration (MMX) mission is to be launched in 2024.

Onboard that craft will be a German-French rover slated to land on the Martian moon Phobos and explore its surface for approximately three months.

Prepatory landing tests for the rover’s touchdown on the Martian moon is underway at the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR).

Rover testing.
Credit: DLR

Impact testing

Using a first preliminary development model, and using the Landing and Mobility Test Facility in Bremen, technicians are appraising the 55-pound (25-kilograms) rover’s design and its ability to withstand an impact on the moon’s surface – after a roughly 130 to 328 feet (40 to 100 meters) free fall onto the moon.

Drop testing underway.
Credit: DLR

Phobos has roughly two thousandths of Earth’s gravity at its surface.

“The exact location of the landing on the surface of Phobos is a matter of chance and we are using these analyses to prepare for the various possible scenarios,” explains Michael Wrasmann from the DLR Institute of Space Systems.

The findings of the experiments will help the researchers to define the design of the MMX Rover in more detail.

Driving orientation

“In 2021, we plan to test a significantly more representative structural model equipped with all the components of the motion system,” adds Markus Grebenstein from DLR’s Robotics and Mechatronics Center (RMC) in Oberpfaffenhofen.

Artwork depicts rover wheeling about on Phobos.
Credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0)

“This consists of four wheels attached to movable legs and a foldable mechanism at the rear of the rover. If the rover lands on its side, this mechanism will bring it into a position where it can autonomously move into the final driving orientation and deploy its solar panels,” Grebenstein notes in a DLR press statement.

Phobos awaits exploration. Image taken by European Space Agency’s Mars Express orbiter.
Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin/CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO


Moons of Mars – origins?

The JAXA MMX mission is scheduled for a 2024 liftoff, with insertion into Mars orbit in 2025.

MMX is targeted to explore Mars’ two moons Phobos and Deimos. It has long been speculated that the moons might be asteroids captured by the Red Planet or may have formed as a result of the collision of a larger body with Mars.

The landing of the MMX rover on Phobos as part of the mission is planned for late 2026 or early 2027.

The machinery will spend some 100 days analyzing the surface properties of the Martian moon in detail, contributing to solving the scientific puzzle concerning its origin.

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