NASA selects 10 scientists to join the MMX science team!

10 scientists from across the United States have been selected in April 2023 by NASA to join the international science team for the Martian Moons eXploration (MMX) mission. The researchers will join the Japan team in analysing data from the spacecraft’s onboard suite of instrument as MMX takes a close look at Phobos, Deimos, and the Martian environment from orbit, as well as participate in the investigation of the sample MMX will collect from Phobos and return to Earth.

(Details of the US participating scientists can be found here)

Artist impression of the MMX spacecraft observing Phobos from 70 km above the moon.

The announcement has been greeted with enthusiasm by the Japan-based team. Professor Kuramoto Kiyoshi (Hokkaido University) is a member of the MMX science team in Japan. He highlights the importance of bringing together a varied skill set for a mission that must tackle interdisciplinary themes.

Ten Participating Scientists selected by NASA will now join the MMX science team. The collaboration between a variety of different scientists is critical to promote the science of MMX. This is because the MMX mission aims to elucidate a broad range of scientific topics, including the origin of the Martian moons, the evolution of the early Solar System, the geology and geodesy of the moons, and the evolution of the Martian atmosphere and the Mars-moons system. Additionally, the clues will come from 3-year observations using eight advanced science instruments, and the precise analyses of returned samples using state-of-art techniques, producing a great amount of data on the Martian moons, their surrounding space, and the parent planet Mars. The collaboration of scientists is therefore a powerful and essential tool to produce and process this data and derive rich scientific results.

MMX welcomes the NASA-selected scientists, seven of whom are experts in observational science and three of whom are experts in sample science. Their addition to our team is of great benefit in advancing the science of MMX. We look forward to collaborating with them and are confident that exciting scientific discoveries will be made from the expanded collaboration.

KURAMOTO Kiyoshi, MMX Science Team Principal Investigator

The announcement of the participating scientists comes just after JAXA and NASA signed the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for collaboration on the MMX mission. In addition to joining the science team, NASA is providing two instruments onboard the MMX spacecraft. The first of these is the gamma-ray and neutron spectrometer being developed at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. Cleverly named MEGANE (the Mars-moon Exploration with GAmma rays and NEutrons) meaning “eye glasses” in Japanese, the instrument will explore the elemental composition of the moons. The second addition is the pneumatic (P) sampler that has been developed by Honeybee Robotics. This is one of two sampling mechanisms onboard MMX that will collect material from Phobos when the spacecraft lands on the innermost Martian moon.

Curation (Glove Box work)

The collection of samples is of great interest to Professor Usui Tomohiro, group manager of the Astromaterial Science Research Group at ISAS JAXA, and leader of the sample analysis team for MMX. He is particularly excited that three of the ten participating researchers have expertise in sample analysis.

I am very much looking forward to having 10 excellent researchers from the United States participate in MMX. Each of the 10 people selected are experts in their respective fields, and will bring new ideas and insights to the MMX science team. In particular, as leader of the sample analysis team, I am delighted to have three sample analysis specialists join us from the remote sensing observation phase. In addition to specialists in remote sensing, the opinions of experts who will actually analyse the samples are indispensable for the selection of sampling collection sites.

Alongside the upcoming spacecraft operations, we are also developing and designing a curation facility for the returned samples. Compared to Hayabusa2, the MMX curation facility will be required to handle a larger volume and greater variety of samples. The addition of the US participating scientists will therefore not only strengthen the MMX science team, but undoubtedly contribute to the curation preparations.

USUI Tomohiro, MMX Sample Analysis Working Team (SAWT) lead

The MMX mission will also carry an infrared spectrometer (MIRS) being contributed by the National Centre for Space Studies in France (CNES), and a rover for exploring the surface of Phobos that has been jointly designed by CNES and the German Aerospace Center (DLR). By combining expertise from around the world, we hope to maximise the scientific output and discoveries from this amazing mission to the Martian sphere: the gateway to the terrestrial planets in our Solar System.

(We’ve made a small update to the way we write Japanese names! To be consistent with a national change in policy, the order of names for Japanese researchers will now be written with the family name first.)