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The spacecraft will be launched in 2024, inserted into Mars orbit in 2025, and stay in the Martian area for about 3 years. It will perform scientific observations of Phobos from low altitudes and select sample collection sites. The spacecraft will then land on the surface of Phobos, collect samples, and return to Earth in 2029. Before entering the orbit to return to Earth, the spacecraft will carry out a flyby observation of Deimos, the other Martian satellite. There have been many space missions to Mars, and several spacecraft are still orbiting Mars for observation such as Mars Express (Witasse et al. 2014). Some spacecrafts observed Phobos and Deimos as a secondary objective (Duxbury et al. 2014). On the other hand, only a few missions have tried to observe Phobos as a main target, such as Phobos-1 and Phobos-2 in 1988 (Sagdeev and Zakharov 1989) and Phobos-Grunt in 2011 (Marov et al. 2004), but none of the missions were fully successful. Therefore, the MMX mission is definitely different from the previous missions in that it will mainly observe the Martian satellites and will also collect and bring back samples to Earth.
In addition to global mapping, the main objective of this first QSO-M in the period from November to December 2025 (Fig. 1 top) is to observe the 50 landing site candidates early enough to guarantee all their characteristics are transferred to the Earth before the solar conjunction during December 2025 and January 2026 (Fig. 1 bottom) so that a selection process can be applied to define the 20 best candidates that will be observed in greater details during QSO-LA in the period from February to March 2026 (Fig. 1 top). Data volume, data rate transmission and duration of Earth communication slots will drive the capacity to perform the selection in due time.
The main objective on these QSOs is to characterize the landing site candidates as precisely as possible (Fig. 8a). The proximity to Phobos is an advantage for geometric resolution but it reduces the capacity to observe high latitude area. Also, the lower-altitude orbit has higher ground speed on Phobos (Fig. 8b) and in this case the MIRS along-track scanner will be used during observations to reduce the ground speed of MIRS line of sight projection on Phobos so that it is compatible with the integration time. Solar latitude (β angle) during QSO-LA, LB, and LC is negative (Fig. 1 top), because in this period summer comes to the southern hemisphere. Therefore, from QSO-LA, LB, and LC, the best observation with low solar incident and phase angle can be made for the southern hemisphere, while high latitude areas in the northern hemisphere are difficult to observe.
The MMX Rover, a mobile surface science package, provided by CNES and DLR with contributions from Spain and Japan (Michel et al. 2021; Ulamec et al. 2019) is planned to be delivered to the surface of Phobos during a landing rehearsal of the main spacecraft. The rover will determine the physical and mineralogical properties of the undisturbed Phobos surface material and the heterogeneity within the landing and roving area. Moreover, it will also observe the flow of the surface regolith on the wheels, and therefore will give precious information on the dynamics of the regolith in the actual gravitational environment of the surface. The whole set of Rover measurements will thus also support the main scientific objectives of MMX mission by providing data that can be used for preparing the landing sites of the main spacecraft as well as the sampling procedure. 2b1af7f3a8