iSB, Go!

(Translated from an article by Koji Wada, Planetary Exploration Research Center, Chiba Institute of Technology)

What a confusing title for an article! First of all, what is the “SB”? Let’s start with this! SB is the abbreviation of “Science Board” (as well as the Japanese mobile phone company, “SoftBank”). “Board” here has the same meaning as in “Board of Directors”. In other words, members of the SB are the top-level decision-making body in charge of the science for the Martian Moons eXploration Mission (MMX). This is an unusual team, as typically a single Project Manager is appointed to make the final decisions for a mission.

Dr Hidenori Genda (ELSI, TiTech) gives a talk on the original of the Martian moons at the iSB kick-off meeting.

Since our mission to the Martian moons was first conceived, the SB has been the place where everything about the science has been examined and decided. Topics such as the importance of bringing back a sample of Phobos and the definition of the MMX mission requirements are handled by the SB.

Once the spacecraft has successfully acquired data, the results will then be aggregated by the SB who are responsible for integrating the output from all the different measurements to ensure the best scientific results are drawn from the mission.

Almost contrary to this intricate procedure, quick reviews and decision making are also a key part of the duties for the SB. We therefore discuss with one another on a daily basis via email, as well as regular weekly meetings.

The SB is the first of such teams to be created for Japanese exploration missions and trial and error helps the board develop into an example for future missions.

The first members of the MMX SB were from JAXA and universities within Japan, with representatives from each of the planned instruments onboard MMX working together to construct the initial science plans. However, MMX is an international mission. The near-infrared hyperspectral imager (MacrOmega) is being built by CNES in France and the gamma ray and neutron spectrometer (MEGANE) is to be contributed by APL in the USA. This is in addition to a number of other collaborations with organisations from outside Japan. Therefore it was clear that forming the SB only from Japan members would not make the best mission!

We are now setting up an international SB, or “iSB” for short (isn’t the lowercase “i” fun?). The first meeting that launched the new iSB was held at Rikkyo University in Ikebukuro, Tokyo from March 8th – 9th, 2018. Professor Jean-Pierre Bibring, PI of MacrOmega, and Dr David Lawrence, PI of MEGANE, are among the new iSB members, with several other researchers from outside Japan. Together, the team discussed topics from conceptual ideas such as mission requirements, through to concrete plans for sampling methods. The vigorous discussion produced a great atmosphere at the Rikkyo University campus.

Initially I was concerned that the plan for aggregating the data and managing the science by the iSB would be complicated and confusing to discuss. However, we all agreed that “good science is the top priority!” and this shared mandate allowed the iSB members to communicate their ideas well. It was a great start!

In the future, we plan to hold meetings once or twice a month, with face-to-face meetings one or twice a year (how about the next face-to-face meeting being held in France?). Look out for future iSB activities for MMX!