Japan, Germany and France to send rover to Martian moon Phobos

An international team of explorers, led by Japan, will send a tiny robotic rover to the Martian moon of Phobos very soon.
Christopher McFadden
Color image of Phobos.


A Japanese-led mission to Mars has just signed an agreement with German and French partners to build a rover to explore Phobos.

The rover will be transported on Japan's planned Martian Moons eXploration (MMX) mission and operate on Phobos' hostile, low-gravity surface.

Announced at this year's Paris Air Show, the rover will explore the moon and collect samples for return to Earth by the MMX mothership. This is not only interesting in and of itself but could provide priceless information on the origin of the Phobos.

The Rover will also collect samples

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) collaborated with the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) and the French space agency (Centre national d'études spatiales; CNES) to work together on the MMX mission. Additionally, the rover's development is almost complete, including all instruments and systems, with a target date of summer 2023. Interestingly, the rover has been given the name IDEFIX.

"We are very excited to collaborate with CNES and DLR as part of the MMX mission, which endeavors to clarify the origin of the Martian moons and the evolutionary process of the Martian sphere by collecting samples from one of Mars' two moons – Phobos – for the first time in space history," said Hiroshi Yamakawa, President of JAXA, in an official release.

"Japan shares a precious memory with France and Germany regarding the collaboration during the Hayabusa2 sample return mission, on which the joint CNES-DLR MASCOT lander flew. And we are looking forward to putting our efforts together once again for a successful MMX mission," he added.

"Japan and France are important strategic partner countries for DLR in almost all of our research areas. In this context, our cooperation within the framework of the MMX mission is a specific example of the creative power of our multifaceted collaboration. When a rover travels over the surface of the Martian moon Phobos for the first time, we will have jointly pushed technological boundaries to learn more about the origin of the Solar System and Mars with its moons," said Anke Kaysser-Pyzalla, Chair of the DLR Executive Board.

The mission could discover Phobos' origin

"MMX is a true example of how to conduct challenging space missions with international cooperation – as a joint undertaking, together with like-minded nations, space agencies, and partners. Each side brings fruitful and specific competencies, sharing costs and risks and gaining exceptional technological expertise and scientific results," explained Walther Pelzer, DLR Executive Board Member and Director General of the German Space Agency at DLR.

"The signing of this new tripartite agreement between CNES, JAXA, and DLR is another milestone in the fruitful cooperation between our three nations on the MMX mission. By studying the two Martian moons, Phobos and Deimos, this mission will lead to major advances in the knowledge of the Solar System," said Philippe Baptiste, CNES' CEO.

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