The Martian Moons eXploration (MMX) mission has moved to the Critical Design Phase

Article by Martian Moons eXploration (MMX) Project Manager, Yasuhiro Kawakatsu. (Original article published in ISAS News (No. 480) 2021/03)

MMX spacecraft artist’s concept image during descending/landing on Phobos.

The Martian Moons eXploration (MMX) mission plans to achieve the world’s first sample return from the Martian moon, Phobos. With a scheduled launch of JFY2024, the mission objectives are to investigate the origin of the Martian moons, the planetary formation process and place new constraints on the transport of materials through the Solar System. The mission also aims to acquire new knowledge about the evolutionary history of the Martian sphere and to develop technology that will benefit future space exploration.

Following the decision to develop MMX by the Space Development and Utilization Division of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) in February 2020, the mission proceeded to the Preliminary Design Phase in February 2020. The preliminary design is a key activity to solidify the design specifications for the systems, subsystems, and components that constitute MMX, while maintaining consistency with the different items of onboard equipment. 

The Preliminary Design Phase was heavily affected by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, and a state of emergency was issued in Japan in the spring of 2020 that switched the team to telework. This meant that meetings and the review meetings all had to be held online, and in particular, communication with the project teams in different countries also became completely remote. Members of our team have noted the difficulty with not being able to hold face-to-face discussions. In particular, I have realised that difficult international coordination is greatly helped by face-to-face nonverbal communication. But even in this situation, I am grateful for the constant efforts of all parties that have succeeded in minimising the impact of COVID-19 disaster and were able to proceed with the Preliminary Design Phase almost as planned.

To confirm the results from the Preliminary Design Phase, a Preliminary Design Review (PDR) was held for each level. First, the PDRs were held for the mission instruments, then the spacecraft bus subsystem, the ground system and after that, the PDR for the entire spacecraft system was performed. Finally, a JAXA integrated PDR that considered all elements was conducted in February 2021. A large number of participants from inside and outside of JAXA were involved in the judging, and the transition to the next phase (Critical Design Phase) was approved.

From here, manufacturing of hardware such as test models will begin, and the exchange of components, including from overseas, will start in earnest. In addition, agreements with the space agencies of each country are scheduled to be revised to cover these activities. There is plenty of activity to get done, but our team will work together to aim for the launch of MMX in JFY2024.