JAXA's daring Mars mission set to launch in 2026

JAXA's daring Mars mission set to launch in 2026

Slated to launch in November 2026, Japans Aerospace eXploration Agency (JAXA) is planning on launching their most daring mission yet. The target of this mission? The two Martian moons, Phobos and Deimos.

MMX or "Martian Moons Exploration" is an upcoming planetary science mission that is poised to launch in September of 2024. If successful this mission will attain a handful of firsts.

A graphic that showcases the planned Trajectories MMX will take © JAXA

Mission Objectives

Find out how Mars got its Moons

Little is known about how Mars got its two Martian moons, MMX hopes to change that. MMX will either show that the moons were captured, or formed by a collision similar to how Earth got its moon. This question will be answered when MMX lands on the Martian moon of Phobos. Once there, studying of the moons surface can be compared to the surface of Mars. Determine wether or not the two celestial bodies have similar surface regolith.

Sample Return from Phobos

After landing on the Martin moon Phobos, a sample will be collected. This sample, which will weigh around 10 grams will start a voyage back to Earth! The sample is planned to return to Earth in 2029. This would mark the first time a sample from a moon, that wasn’t Earths, would be returned to Earth!

General Planetary Science

While the two objectives above are more mission dependent, MMX will also help scientists around the world understand the forming of terrestrial worlds, along with more about Mars and its moons. As Mars is believed to have once had a similar surface environment as here on Earth, better understanding how the forming of these planets work, can help play a huge factor in determining how life came about!

Essentially, MMX will help expand general planetary science understanding, along with the Martian system as a whole!

The MMX probe broken down

The Martian Moons Exploration probe is made up of three different modules. Each of these modules have a unique and important purpose.

MMX probe’s three stages separated; From left to right, Propulsion Module, Return Module, and the Exploration Module © JAXA (note graphic may be out of date)

Propulsion Module

The propulsion module on the MMX space probe will, of course, contain the bulk of all propulsion systems. This module will be used to maneuver the return and exploration modules between Earth/Mars and between the Martian objects it plans on studying. The propulsion module is powered via a 500 N Orbital Maneuvering Engine (OME) and a 20 N Reaction Control System (RCS).

Return Module

The return module will return samples taken from the moon of Phobos, hence the modules name! The return module not only houses the sample return capsule, it also contains some science equipment and communication hardware. For communication, the return module will have a high gain antenna dish attached to it. This module will also house a radiation sensor, to monitor radiation levels in the nearby environment, along with a camera capable of capturing both videos and images! The return module will hopefully bring back samples from Phobos sometime in 2029!

Exploration Module

Finally, the exploration module will conduct the crucial surface missions. This will include landing on Phobos, drilling into the surface and collecting a 10 g sample, along with deploying a rover! This module has a plethora of tools, from a telescopic camera along with three different spectrometers. The lander also contains a laser-altimeter to map/image the surface of Phobos/Deimos. All of this scientific hardware will help increase humanities knowledge on the two Martian moons.


MMX will deploy a little rover on the Martian moon of Phobos. This rover was built in collaboration with the German Space Agency (DLR) and the French “Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales” (CNES) agency. The rover will help scientists back on Earth better understand the surface features present on Phobos. According to DLR, the rover is set to last around 100 days.

Image of the Rover that will hitch a ride on MMX © DLR

Launch Vehicle and Date

MMX is planning on launching in September of 2024, a little under a year at the time of this articles publish date. If the launch doesn’t occur during this period, it will have to wait two more years, for another Martian launch window to open up.

Artist Depiction of the H3 rocket taking to the stars © JAXA

The daring space probe is going to launch onboard JAXA‘s H3 Rocket. The H3 rocket is still in development, it launched for the first time in March of 2023. Sadly, like most maiden rocket launches, the H3 experienced a failure during launch. The cause of this failure was a second stage issue a little after stage separation.

Hopefully, JAXA engineers will have worked out any issues and are confident in a successful launch of MMX. But, there shouldn’t be any worry, as currently some 10 planned launches lie in between now and the launch of MMX in September of next year.