Japan to land spacecraft on Phobos by 2022

12 Jun 2015

A Russian Soyuz rocket carrying JAXA astronaut Akihiko Hoshide aboard Expedition 32 for the International Space Station (ISS). Image via NASA/Carla Cioffi

In what would be the first time in space history, as far as human beings are concerned, the Japanese space agency – JAXA – wants to send a spacecraft to one of Mars’s moons and bring it back.

The moon in question that the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is focused on is Phobos, the larger sibling of Mars’s two moons, the other being Deimos.

While much of Mars’s surface has been studied both on its surface and through orbiters circling the planet, no similar examination has been given to either of its two natural satellites.

Laying out its mission plan, JAXA said it believes that by sending a craft to Phobos’ surface and sending back physical samples to scientists back here on Earth, we will be able to discover more about its origins and what could have caused Mars to lose its water.

According to Phys.org, some astronomers have suggested that both Phobos and Deimos could actually be asteroids that were caught by Mars’s gravitational pull.

Aside from discovering the region’s past, JAXA are also looking to use this mission as a test-run for a potential manned mission in a few decades’ time, following on from NASA’s suggestion that Phobos could be an orbital base for its own manned Mars mission prior to actually landing on the Red Planet.

The mission now just has to receive approval from the Japanese government to fund what would cost the taxpayer somewhere in the region of US$241m; it has provisionally been given a launch year of 2022.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic