The Lowdown Hub

Japan aims to be first in bringing home Martian soil with a probe to Phobos

Scientists from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency recover samples in South Australia that were collected on the Ryugu asteroid

Japan is aiming to beat missions from the US and China in a race to bring the first Martian soil samples back to Earth.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (Jaxa) will launch a Martian Moons eXploration (MMX) probe in 2024 to Phobos, a satellite of Mars about 5,600 miles from the planet.

The probe is scheduled to return with a 10g (0.35oz) soil sample in 2029.

Both the US and China already have vehicles operating on Mars, but the Jaxa mission is due to return before them.

Nasa’s Perseverance rover is collecting samples from Mar’s surface and is due to return by 2031 at the earliest, in co-operation with the European Space Agency. China landed a probe in May this year and is due to bring back samples in 2030.

The Jaxa mission hopes to analyze the origins of Mars and look for traces of life in the samples.

Tiny quantities of the soil on the moon are expected to be from Mars, though high levels of radiation will likely have damaged some of the evidence in the samples.

JAXA hopes that collecting samples from multiple locations on Phobos will give it a better understanding of the Martian system, according to Professor Tomohiro Usui, of Japan’s Institute of Space and Astronautical Science.

The Chinese and US missions are hoping to find water on Mars that could be used in future colonization of the planet.

In December last year, Jaxa’s Hayabusa2 probe brought samples back from the Ryugu asteroid, more than 190 million miles from Earth the first successful mission of its kind.

● Chinese astronauts edged into space yesterday to add finishing touches to a robotic arm on the Tiangong space station. The second spacewalk in two months, which was broadcast on state television, is part of China’s heavily promoted space programmed. In June three crew arrived at the station and will stay for three months. Yesterday two astronauts installed foot stops and a workbench on the station’s robotic arm, the China Manned Space Agency said.

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