The first international meeting for the MMX Remote Sensing Consortium

(Article by Tomoki Nakamura, Tohoku University)

*Martian Moons eXploration: MMX

We have just held the first international meeting for the MMX* Remote Sensing Consortium. The meeting was held on the 9th and 10th of March, 2018 at Rikkyo University in Tokyo.

Figure 1: Introducing the observation plans for examining the martian moons from orbit.

Let me introduce this meeting by first describing the scope and activities of the MMX Remote Sensing Consortium. This is a group of 25 scientists including many science board members (who discuss the mission’s science goals), instrument PIs (“Principal Investigators” who have overall charge of the instrument), and JAXA system members (the Science Operation Working Team: SOWT, who ensure the mission design is able to perform the best possible science).

Together, this group is in charge of planning, performing, and summarising the science operations around Phobos and Deimos using the onboard “remote sensing payloads”; the instruments on the MMX spacecraft that will analyse the moons while in orbit.

The main goals of the consortium are to derive an interpretation for the origin of the two moons that is consistent with the observed data, and also to develop a procedure for selecting the best landing sites on Phobos. In this last fiscal year, the consortium had eleven domestic meetings to develop a plan for the MMX spacecraft to observe Phobos from three different heights above the moon surface. The plan that resulted was introduced in this first international meeting for MMX Remote Sensing Consortium.

The objectives of this meeting were:

  • Introduce the remote sensing observation plans from the consortium team members
  • Discuss how the observation plans could be improved based on critical and constructive comments from all participants, especially from the four invited international reviewers.
  • Hear about previous experiences of observing other small planetary bodies from special lectures delivered by four international reviewers.


Our four international invited reviewers gave the following lectures on their expertise as part of previous small body missions around the Solar System:

  1. Fabrizio Capaccioni (Director of INAF: The National Institute for Astrophysics in Italy) spoke about the European Space Agency (ESA) Rosetta mission to a comet, with the title “The Rosetta mission and comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko: the portrait of a primitive body of the Solar System“.
  2. Christophe Sotin (Senior Research Scientist at JPL: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory) discussed Saturn’s moon Titan, and the joint NASA and ESA mission, Cassini Huygens, with the title, “Titan after Cassini Huygens“.
  3. Bethany Ehlmann (Professor of Planetary Science at Caltech: California Institute of Technology) gave a talk on the NASA mission, Dawn, entitled “Dawn Results from the Asteroid Ceres and the MNO CubeSat Proposal to Phobos Deimos“.
  4. Franck Montmessin (Research Scientist at LATMOS: Atmosphères, Milieux, Observations Spatiales, in France) talked on the atmosphere of Mars with the title, “Observing Mars’s atmosphere: past to present…and beyond“.


On the first day of the meeting, observation plans for the individual remote sensing payloads were introduced (Fig. 1), including the instruments being contributed from outside Japan, such as the near-infrared spectrometer, MacrOmega, led by Professor Jean-Pierre Bibring (CNES, France) and gamma-ray and neutron spectrometer, MEGANE, led by Dr. David Lawrence (NASA / John Hopkins University, USA). Dr. Patrick Michel explained the current status of the development of a possible rover to be deployed on the surface of Phobos that is being considered by the French space agency, CNES. In the evening after the meeting, we had a welcome party at a restaurant in Sunshine 60 building in Tokyo (Fig.2).

Figure 3: Group photo

On the second day, the plan for observing Phobos during the decent of the MMX spacecraft to sample the surface was introduced. After the presentation of the full set of plans for Phobos and Deimos, the meeting moved to a discussion session on how these observational plans could be further improved.

This discussion was active and in-depth, involving very constructive and straightforward comments from colleagues from within Japan and abroad (Fig. 3).

This discussion was summarised and will be used for the future improvement of the remote sensing observation plans for Phobos and Deimos. We hope we will have a second meeting of the MMX Remote Sensing Consortium in the near future, when we develop the improved and more robust observation plans.