Both nations plan to jointly launch a probe that takes samples of the Phobos natural satellite and returns to Earth.
PARIS. France and Japan are preparing a joint mission to bring a sample of one of the Moons of Mars to Earth, said Jean-Yves Le Gall, president of the National Center for Space Studies of France (CNES).
“It is a mission of considerable importance because it will be the first time we will bring to Earth a sample of a satellite from another planet,” he told AFP.
Le Gall and Naoki Okumura, president of the Japan Space Exploration Agency (JAXA), signed an agreement in Tokyo to study this mission, called MMX, which plans to launch a probe to Mars in 2024. The final decision will be made late of this year.
The probe must deposit a small landing module on Phobos, the largest and closest of the two moons of Mars, to bring to Earth a sample “that will allow thousands of analyzes,” explained Le Gall.
Of irregular form, Fobos measures 27 kilometers in its greater extension. Knowing its structure would clarify the debate on the origin of the two moons of Mars. According to the two main theories, it could be an asteroid captured in the gravitational field of the planet, or the residue of a giant impact against the red planet.
Going to Phobos, which orbits only 6,000 km from Mars, also represents a rather secure means of observing the red planet. “Posing in Phobos is roughly twice as difficult as landing on Mars, because the probe does not have to traverse the Martian atmosphere,” said the CNES president.
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