Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Japan Plans Probe to Bring Back Samples from Moons of Mars

Mars' moons Deimos (left) and Phobos (right). Credit: NASA

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) on Tuesday unveiled a plan for an unmanned space probe to bring back sand and other samples from Mars’ in a multiyear mission that could begin as early as 2021. The plan, which won broad approval at a meeting of a government advisory panel on Tuesday, would be the world’s first sample collection mission to the moons of Phobos and Deimos, JAXA said. Total project costs are estimated at 30 billion yen ($241 million).

The JAXA Institute of Space and Astronautical Science launched a task force in May to consider the feasibility and significance of the planned mission. Details of the probe, including its size and engine type, have yet to be worked out.

A decision has not been made on which of Mars' two tiny satellites will be targeted for a landing.

JAXA plans to commence development of the probe in the next fiscal year, which starts in April, if the project is given government funding.

The probe to be sent to Mars is the first of three midsize spacecraft to be launched in the coming 10 years under the basic space policy approved in January.

As for the second mission planned under the newly authorized space program, JAXA is considering launching a solar observatory satellite. 

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