CNES joins the Martian Moon eXploration Mission team

JAXA President Naoki Okumura (right) and CNES President Jean-Yves Le Gall shake hands after the signing ceremony.

Our journey to Phobos and Deimos has been joined by France’s Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES). The French space agency are to develop plans for a scientific instrument for the Martian Moon eXploration mission, investigate the possibility of a movable lander and combine flight expertise with JAXA engineers and scientists for the tricky manoeuvring around the Martian moons.

Transferral of skills and ideas both ways is really the way science should go,” explains Jean-Pierre Bibring, the principal investigator (lead researcher) for the CNES instrument.

On April 10th, the agreement between the two space agencies was made official, with JAXA president Naoki Okumura meeting CNES president Jean-Yves Le Gall in an signing ceremony at JAXA’s Tokyo office.

The space agency heads were joined by Masaaki Tanaka, the Director General of the Research and Development Bureau at Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology(MEXT), and Paul-Bertrand Barets, the Minster for the Embassy of France in Japan.

The scientific instrument being developed with CNES will be a Near-infrared Spectrometer (NIRS); a high resolution infrared camera combined with a spectrometer that analyses the composition of rock in each of the image pixels. Named ‘MacrOmega’, the instrument has a pixel size an order of magnitude smaller than similar instruments on missions such as ESA’s Mars Express and ExoMars. The ability of MacrOmega to study the rocks of the Martian moons on scales of a few tenths of a metre will allow both the moon composition to be uncovered and also assist in providing the best location for the MMX spacecraft to land and gather a sample to return to Earth.

CNES will also investigate the possibility of building a rover or hopper to explore the surface of Phobos on microscopic scales. A decision will be taken within the next year.

The MMX mission is a very timely and essential mission, given the questions we now need to address on the origin of life and the processes that gave the diversity in our Solar System,” says Bibring. “It’s a very important mission.