The Martian Moons eXploration (MMX) mission, led by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), is preparing for a groundbreaking journey to Mars’ moons, Phobos and Deimos. The German-French rover, IDEFIX, will play a crucial role in this ambitious mission, which aims to uncover the mysterious origins of these moons and deepen our understanding of the Martian system.
The IDEFIX rover, a collaborative effort between the German space agency DLR and the French space agency CNES, is currently en route to Japan, where it will be integrated into the MMX mothercraft in February 2024. The rover was constructed at CNES’s facility in Toulouse, with DLR delivering the partially assembled rover and two instruments in 2022.
Anke Kaysser-Pyzalla, Chair of the DLR Executive Board, expressed excitement about the international collaboration, emphasizing the significance of the partnership with Japan and France across various research areas. Philippe Baptiste, President of CNES, echoed this sentiment, highlighting the mission’s importance in advancing our knowledge of the Solar System.
IDEFIX’s journey to Phobos is not only a physical one but also a technological marvel. Weighing just 25 kilograms, the rover has a highly integrated construction that is crucial for its survival on Phobos. Markus Grebenstein, the DLR Project Manager for IDEFIX, emphasized the rover’s compact design and its ability to carry out scientific tasks despite its lightweight.
The mission sequence is meticulously planned. After its launch in 2026, the MMX spacecraft will travel to Mars and arrive in 2027 to begin its exploration. Equipped with eight scientific instruments, the spacecraft will map and analyze the surfaces of Phobos and Deimos. IDEFIX will then make a pioneering landing on Phobos and autonomously right itself for a three-month mission phase. This phase is particularly challenging for IDEFIX, as it must carry out various operations independently.
Yasuhiro Kawakatsu, MMX Project Manager at JAXA, expressed excitement about IDEFIX’s arrival in Japan and reaffirmed the mission’s significance, despite the launch delay. The MMX mission is a testament to international cooperation, with contributions from NASA, ESA, CNES, and DLR. The mission builds on the success of the Hayabusa2 mission, which returned samples from asteroid Ryugu.
DLR’s involvement in the MMX mission extends beyond the rover’s physical components. Various DLR institutes contribute to the mission’s success, including Robotics and Mechatronics, System Dynamics and Control, Lightweight Systems, Space Systems, Optical Sensor Systems, Planetary Research, Software Technology, and the Microgravity User Support Center (MUSC).
The MMX mission represents a continuation of the successful partnership between JAXA, CNES, and DLR. It follows in the footsteps of the Hayabusa2 mission, which provided groundbreaking insights into asteroid Ryugu and its landscape.