JAXA is preparing for its Martian Moons eXploration (MMX) mission, a high-profile sample-return journey planned for 2024. The mission has two goals: the first is to clarify the origin of the Martian moons; the second is to study the evolutionary process of the Martian system.
MMX will study Mars’s two moons (Phobos and Deimos) and collect sand samples from the surface of one of them. The cooperation with NHK and their super hi-vision camera will ensure that images are taken at regular intervals and transmitted directly to Earth.
The MMX return capsule will also store the original image data in a recording device in order to transport it back to our planet. Additionally, the images will be able to help visualize the behavior of the spacecraft and combine it with MMX’s flight data to facilitate its operation.
This would be the first time that 8K cameras are used to take proximity captures. 8K images have a resolution of 8,192x420 pixels; you can zoom into them very far, as well as reframe them without losing information. Even a quarter of an 8K image is HD.
The vivid captures are expected to further inspire an already enthusiastic panorama for space exploration and the future colonization of Mars.
The MMX mission will launch around the mid-2020s. One year after leaving Earth, the spacecraft will enter an orbit around Mars and move into a Quasi Satellite Orbit around Phobos. Its return should happen circa 2029.
The mission’s main objective is to clarify how the two Martian moons were created, as this could hold the key to understanding planetary formation in the solar system. For example, MMX could determine if the moons were captured as asteroids or fragments caused by an impact with Mars. It should also offer new insights into the history of the Mars sphere as a whole.
One of today’s key scientific goals is understanding how life started. The way planets originate and evolve can get us closer to this goal.
This makes Mars a particularly interesting celestial body and a desired exploration target because its surface environment was once similar to Earth — hence, it might have had the same potential for life. By studying the sediments that were ejected from Mars and deposited on its moons, we can follow the evolution of the Martian surface and gain valuable insights into its young environment.
Ever since we could look up, but in particular, after the invention of telescopes in the 1800s, the intriguing surface of Mars has captivated human eyes. So far, only uncrewed spacecraft have been able to visit the Red Planet.
The recently launched US space mission Mars Rover Perseverance is expected to arrive at Mars in mid-February 2021. Perseverance’s landing spot was chosen because it might have once held a lake filled with water. Equipped with sophisticated instruments, the rover will drill for soil and rock samples and fly around the planet in a small helicopter looking for the remains of ancient microbial life.
If it finds them, the repercussions will be immense. This would, most of all, mean that the universe could be full of life — or rather, that life could be one of its natural features.
SpaceX is one of the largest companies that has set Mars as its next goal. Their Starship vehicle, able to carry 100 tons to Earth orbit, makes for a perfect reusable transportation system to achieve this. The combination of Starship and Super Heavy rocket can even leverage Mars’s natural H2O and CO2 resources to refuel on the surface of Mars.
The company is already testing early versions of the spacecraft, evaluating potential landing sites, and planning long-term bases on the Red Planet. Some have estimated that the first uncrewed missions to Mars could happen as early as 2022. (Mars aligns with Earth favorably for space missions every 26 months, creating an optimal window of opportunity.)
SpaceX is not the only one planning visits to the Red Planet. NASA is working on returning astronauts to the Moon in order to demonstrate the capabilities required for human missions to Mars. Their Artemis program will see people land on the Moon in 2024, while Mars could be reached in the 2030s — perhaps by 2033 or 2035. One of the most promising prototypes NASA is working on are inflatable space habitats like the Olympus, currently on display in Nevada.
The Deep Space Exploration & Technology Market
The deep space exploration and technology market is expected to show significant growth due to increased government space budgets as well as the emergence of private players. Its projected CAGR is 6.42% for the period 2020-2030, with North America dominating.
Morgan Stanley’s Space Team estimated in 2016 that the approximately $350 billion global space industry could reach over $1 trillion by 2040. The space launch services market alone is worth $32.41 billion today.
In the not-too-distant future, tourists will be able to take trips around Earth, visit space stations, and possibly stay on the Moon and Mars. This would require an extensive infrastructure like landing pads, habitats, radiation shelters, power-generation systems, and greenhouses that could also see the emergence of new industries and opportunities.
Space mining is also already driving interest and investment. Many objects in our solar system are made of minerals and compounds found on Earth but are available in outer space in much larger quantities. Figuring out how to harvest them would benefit space exploration, as it would allow for the construction of stations and spaceships that don’t require to leave Earth’s atmosphere.
The space exploration market, briefly on pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic, is surely lifting off.
About the Author
Yisela Alvarez Trentini is an Anthropologist + User Experience / Human-Computer Interaction Designer with an interest in emerging technologies, social robotics, and VR/AR.