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Phobos sample return mission enters development for 2024 launch – Spaceflight Now

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Artist’s concept of the Japanese MMX spacecraft near Mars and Phobos. Credit: JAXA

Japan’s space agency has approved a robotic mission to retrieve a sample from the Martian moon Phobos for return to Earth to begin full development for a planned launch in 2024, officials said Thursday.

The Martian Moon eXploration, or MMX, spacecraft will attempt to return the first specimens from Phobos for analysis in laboratories on Earth, where scientists hope to trace the origins of the Martian moons to determine whether they were asteroids captured by Mars, or if they formed out of rocky debris generated from an ancient impact on Mars.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and other Japanese government officials officially approved the MMX project to proceed into development Wednesday, according to a post on JAXA’s website.

JAXA began studying the feasibility of a sample return mission to Phobos in 2015, and Japanese officials received promises of contributions to the MMX mission from the United States and Europe.

The MMX mission’s transition from a “pre-project” phase to an official JAXA project Wednesday came after agency leaders considered the probe’s scientific goals, success criteria, implementation, financial plans, schedule, and risks and countermeasures, according to JAXA.

The MMX spacecraft is scheduled for launch in September 2024 aboard a Japanese H3 rocket. The robot explorer will arrive in orbit around Mars in August 2025 and land on Phobos, a moon with an average diameter of about 14 miles, or 22 kilometers.

The probe will land on Phobos and snare at least 10 grams, or about a third of an ounce, of material from the moon’s surface using a coring collection system before taking off again. MMX will also release a German-French rover to explore the terrain and chemical composition of Phobos for roughly three months.

MMX will perform several close flybys of Deimos, the smaller of Mars’s two moons, before departing the orbit of Mars in 2028 on a course back to Earth, where a sample return carrier will re-enter the atmosphere and land containing specimens gathered at Phobos.

The MMX spacecraft’s return to Earth in 2029 would complete the first round-trip voyage to Mars and back, JAXA said.

File photo from ESA’s Mars Express spacecraft of Phobos backdropped by the limb of Mars. Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum)

The MMX spacecraft will consist of three main elements: A propulsion module, a landing module with four legs and science instruments, and a sample carrier to return rocks from Phobos back to Earth.

The mission will carry a NASA-funded instrument — named MEGANE, meaning “eyeglasses” in Japanese — to measure the elemental composition of Phobos by detecting neutrons and gamma-rays emitted from the small moon.

French scientists committed to build an infrared camera and spectrometer named MacrOmega to fly on the MMX spacecraft. Like MEGANE, the French instrument will help scientists locate the best place to collect a sample.

In 2018, the German and French space agencies agreed with JAXA to provide a small rover for the MMX mission based on the MASCOT robot deployed on the surface of asteroid Ryugu by Japan’s Hayabusa 2 spacecraft.

The scientific objectives of the MMX mission are aimed at studying how water was transported between bodies in the early solar system, including to Earth. Scientists think the solar systems’s inner planets were too close to the hot sun during the solar system’s formation to have retained water on their surfaces.

Therefore, scientists theorize that water was delivered to planets like Earth by comets and asteroids. Mars is the outermost of the solar system’s rocky planets, and could have been a “gateway” for water arrival in the inner solar system, according to JAXA.

“Phobos and Deimos resemble asteroids and may have been captured by Mars’s gravity as they were scattered inwards from the asteroid belt,” JAXA wrote in a press release Thursday. “If so, the pair would be capsules for water transport through the Mars gateway to the terrestrial planets.

“Alternatively, the moons may have formed during a giant impact with Mars,” JAXA continued. “This would make the moons capsules of shards of the early Martian environment, revealing how water came and went on the Red Planet.

“A main mission goal for MMX is to decipher the origin of the moons by remote examination and returning a sample for compositional analysis,” JAXA said. “Both possible origins will provide clues as to how water is delivered to inner planets.”

MMX builds upon JAXA’s two previous asteroid sample return missions.

The Hayabusa spacecraft launched in 2003 and collected microscopic samples from asteroid Itokawa in 2005. The probe returned the material to Earth in 2010, overcoming multiple technical malfunctions that threatened to prematurely end the mission.

Hayabusa 2 launched in 2014 and collected samples from Ryugu — a carbon-rich asteroid — during two touch-and-go landings last year. The spacecraft has departed Ryugu and is on track to return the samples to Earth late this year.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

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Hubble Looks at Spiral Galaxy NCG 7329 – Sci-News.com

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The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has captured an amazing photo of the spiral galaxy NCG 7329.

This Hubble image shows NCG 7329, a spiral galaxy located some 149 million light-years away in the constellation of Tucana. Image credit: NASA / ESA / Hubble / Riess et al.

NCG 7329 was first discovered by the English astronomer John Herschel on July 20, 1835.

Otherwise known as ESO 109-12, IRAS 22369-6644 and LEDA 69453, it resides 149 million light-years away in the constellation of Tucana.

The galaxy is a member of the NGC 7329 group (LGG 462), an assembly of more than 10 galaxies bound together by gravity.

This new image of NCG 7329 is made up of observations from Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) in the infrared and optical parts of the spectrum.

“Creating a colorful image such as this one using a telescope such as Hubble is not as straightforward as pointing and clicking a camera,” Hubble astronomers said.

“Commercial cameras will typically try to collect as much light of all visible wavelengths as they can, in order to create the most vibrant images possible.”

“In contrast, raw images collected by Hubble are always monochromatic, because astronomers typically want to capture very specific ranges of wavelengths of light at any time, in order to do the best, most accurate science possible.”

“In order to control which wavelengths of light will be collected, Hubble’s cameras are equipped with a wide variety of filters, which only allow certain wavelengths of light to reach the cameras’ CCDs (a CCD is a camera’s light sensor — phone cameras also have CCDs).”

“How are the colorful Hubble images possible given that the raw Hubble images are monochromatic? This is accomplished by combining multiple different observations of the same object, obtained using different filters,” they added.

“This image of NCG 7329, for example, was processed from Hubble observations made using four different filters, each of which spans a different region of the light spectrum.”

“Specialized image processors and artists can make informed judgements about which optical colors best correspond to each filter used.”

“They can then color the images taken using that filter accordingly.”

“Finally, the images taken with different filters are stacked together, and voila!”

“The colorful image of a distant galaxy is complete, with colors as representative of reality as possible.”

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SpaceX Tapped For 3 More Possible Commercial Crew Flights To Space – Forbes

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SpaceX’s Crew Dragon is just going to get busier shuttling astronauts in the coming years.

NASA announced it intends to issue a sole-source modification to SpaceX’s long-term contract to send astronauts to the International Space Station. This follows an agency call for proposals back in October for more flight options to send people to space.

Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft, which is the other major system, is not quite yet ready for humans following a difficult uncrewed test flight in 2019 that never saw the spacecraft reach the ISS. Starliner has spent some time fixing computer glitches and other issues (including a valve problem that delayed an expected 2021 launch) and is now expecting a second uncrewed test flight by 2022.

The October solicitation, NASA noted, confirms SpaceX is the only viable choice for the time being, given the agency’s safety requirements and the need to keep the space station staffed continuously in the coming years.

“It’s critical we begin to secure additional flights to the space station now so we are ready as these missions are needed to maintain a U.S. presence on station,” Kathy Lueders, associate administrator of NASA’s space 0perations mission directorate, said in a blog post. “Our U.S. human launch capability is essential to our continued safe operations in orbit and to building our low-Earth orbit economy.”

NASA stated it would use these new flights “as early as 2023”, and that the contract (in securing flights and allowing the agency to task personnel elsewhere) will help them get Boeing’s Starliner system ready to fly astronauts once it’s been certified.

“NASA and Boeing will provide additional updates on the status of Starliner’s next mission as we work through the investigation and verification efforts to determine root cause and effective vehicle remediation,” said Phil McAlister, director of commercial spaceflight at NASA, in the same statement.

The latest issue holding up the flight was an oxidizer isolation valve that was found in August, and NASA and Boeing together elected to pull the spacecraft back to the hanger to figure out how to fix the issue before sending the spacecraft aloft.

Another pressing issue for NASA’s future will be extending the planned retirement of the ISS from 2024 to at least 2028, which the agency has said for years it wants to do. It is in negotiations with Congress and with its international partners to do this, and in the meantime, last week the agency also announced it has secured three early-stage contracts for future private space stations to fly late in the 2020s.

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See what food challenges astronauts face in space – CGTN America

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For the first time ever, NASA and the Canadian Space Agency hosted the Deep Space Food Challenge. 

The competition brought universities and companies together to propose solutions on how to feed astronauts on a long mission. Last month, NASA announced that the winners and one of the international winners of the Phase 1 competition came from a group of students in a university in South America. 

CGTN’s Michelle Begue reports Colombia.

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