Attending the International Astronautical Congress, IAC2023

Article by Imada Takane, MMX Project Lead Engineer

From October 2 – 6, the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) was held in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. Facing the Caspian Sea, the city of Baku was once an important strategic point on the Silk Road. Today, Baku is a thriving city rich in oil and natural gas resources, with its walled old city area registered as a World Heritage Site. During the conference, IAC flags flew around the city, and IAC stickers were affixed to the sides of taxi cabs to give a real sense of welcome to the congress participants. The IAC was held at the Baku Convention Center, which is the largest conference centre in the Caucasus region and was used to its fullest extent during the five days of the international exchange on space technology, lectures by space agency representatives from different countries, and the various technical sessions. In total, approximately 5,400 people from 132 countries participated, with many participants this year were local from Azerbaijan and neighbouring Turkey.

The JAXA exhibition booth and the model of the MMX spacecraft. The model also worked hard!

JAXA participated in a number of lectures during the IAC, and also hosted a public information booth during the event. In a corner of the JAXA booth, the MMX Project exhibited a model of the MMX spacecraft, and JAXA PR personnel explained to the participants the details of the mission, how samples from Phobos would be collected, and the instruments onboard. Local students were especially enthusiastic, and listened to the mission and equipment descriptions with great interest. Exploration missions are very popular!   

A short lecture was also held in the middle of the day on October 4. This lecture introduced the characteristics of the MMX mission, and how these were made possible through international cooperation, including the onboard observation equipment such as the MMX rover and MIRS (near-infrared spectrometer) that are being developed in Europe. The design aspects that will allow the MMX spacecraft to land on a small celestial body were also discussed.

The author (Imada) giving a lecture on the MMX project.

One of the questions from the audience was, “I think there are places on the surface of Phobos where the direction of gravity is locally biased. How do you plan to deal with that?”

On celestial bodies with low gravity such as Phobos, there are places where the local direction of gravity deviates significantly from the direction to the centre of the celestial body. If you inadvertently choose such a place to land, the direction of the gravity on the surface will be tilted in an unexpected way, creating a risk of toppling over during landing. MMX will therefore observe these local gravity displacements by observing orbital changes while flying around Phobos before landing.

We hope that thought this exhibition and lecture, many people from overseas will learn more about MMX and support our project!