Thermosphere, Ionosphere, Mesosphere, Energetics, and Dynamics
Built and managed by APL for NASA, the Thermosphere, Ionosphere, Mesosphere, Energetics, and Dynamics (TIMED) mission examines the influences on the least explored and understood region of Earth's atmosphere: the Mesosphere and Lower Thermosphere/Ionosphere (MLTI). The MLTI region is a gateway between Earth's environment and space, where the Sun's energy is first deposited into Earth's environment. TIMED is focusing on a portion of this atmospheric region located approximately 40-110 miles (60-180 kilometers) above the surface. Launched in 2001, TIMED has operated for over a solar cycle to uncover many of the mysteries of our upper atmosphere.
The Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) is a NASA Explorer mission built by APL. Launched in 1997, the original objective of ACE was to measure and compare the composition of several samples of matter, including the solar corona, the solar wind, other interplanetary particle populations, the local interstellar medium, and galactic matter. Since 1998, ACE has provided continuous coverage of the solar wind parameters and solar energetic particle intensity. ACE's location upstream of Earth allows as much as an hour's warning of coronal mass ejections that can cause geomagnetic storms on Earth. ACE is the only real-time space weather monitoring platform providing operational data to power companies, airlines, and other users.
The Solar Orbiter Suprathermal Ion Spectrograph (SO-SIS) instrument will fly aboard Solar Orbiter, a European Space Agency (ESA) spacecraft. The APL built SIS instrument is designed to measure heavy ions in a range of energies. It will determine energetic particle composition, spectral form, event timing, angular distribution, and intensities to characterize the energetic particles so that the sources, mechanisms, and locations of particle acceleration can be understood. Solar Orbiter, ESA's mission to the Sun, launches in 2018 toprovide coordinated observations with NASA's Solar Probe Plus.
The Van Allen Mission, part of NASA's Living With a Star program, provide insight into the physical dynamics of the radiation belts and to give since of changes in this critical region of space. Since their launch on Aug. 30 2012, the APL-built Van Allen Probes have orbited the Earth, sampling the harsh radiation belt environment where major space weather activity occurs and many spacecraft operate. The two spacecraft measure the particles, magnetic and electric fields, and waves that fill geospace; with two spacecraft taking identical measurements and following the same path, can scientists begin to understand how the belts change in both space and time. NASA officially renamed the Radiation Belt Storm Probes mission the Van Allen Probes in honor of the late James Van Allen, who is recognized for his discovery in 1958 of radiation belts encircling Earth.
APL and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory are partnered to develop the Europa Clipper. The Europa Clipper will launch in 2022 to place a spacecraft in orbit around Jupiter and perform a detailed investigation of the giant planet's moon Europa -- a world that shows strong evidence for an ocean of liquid water beneath its icy crust, which could host conditions favorable for life. The Europa Clipper will send a capable, radiation-tolerant spacecraft into a long, looping orbit around Jupiter to perform at least 45 flybys of Europa at altitudes varying from 1700 miles to 16 miles (2700 kilometers to 25 kilometers) above the surface. NASA has selected nine science instruments for the mission including cameras and spectrometers to produce high-resolution images of Europa's surface and determine its composition, an ice-penetrating radar to determine the thickness of the moon's icy shell and search for water, and a magnetometer and plasma instrument to measure the strength and direction of the moon's magnetic field, allowing scientists to determine the depth and salinity of its ocean. APL is building EIS and PIMS for the Europa instrument suite.
Developed by APL for NASA, Parker Solar Probe is a daring mission to fly into the Sun's corona. By flying into the Sun's outer atmosphere, Parker Solar Probe will gather data on the processes that heat the corona and accelerate the solar wind, solving two fundamental mysteries that have been top-priority science goals for many decades. Science goals for the mission are to trace the flow of energy and understand the heating of the solar corona and to explore what accelerates the solar wind. Parker Solar Probe provides a statistical survey of the outer corona. Scheduled to launch in 2018, Parker Solar Probe will be the fastest man-made object to date while zipping through the Sun's outer atmosphere.
The Energetic Particle Detector (EPD) instrument measured the characteristics of energetic particles important in determining the size, shape, and dynamics of Jupiter's magnetosphere. EPD launched in October 1989 on-board the Galileo spacecraft. Galileo arrived at Jupiter in December 1995, orbited the planet for 2 years, and then began its 2-year extended mission, called the Galileo Europa Mission. The mission concluded in September 2003.
MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging
MESSENGER (short for MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging) was the Mercury orbital mission Built by APL for NASA, the spacecraft flew by Mercury three times in 2008-2009, before orbit insertion on March 18, 2011. The mission continuteduntil on April 30, 2015 after the spacecraft ran out of fuel and impacted the surface. MESSENGER carried out comprehensive measurements including a series of global image mosaics, a global map of Mercury's topography, determination of the chemical composition of the planet, characterization of its magnetic field, its trapped charged particles, the extremely thin atmosphere, and confirmation that water ice is trapped in permanently shadowed craters near the planet's poles.
The New Horizons spacecraft is the first mission to investigate Pluto and its five moons. Built by APL for NASA, New Horizons launched in January 2006 and flew by Pluto on July 14, 2015. During its passage through the Pluto system, New Horizons' instruments imaged and measured the compositions and temperatures of Pluto and its moons Charon, Hydra, Nix, Styx, and Kerberos. It also characterized Pluto's atmospheric composition and structure, and determined how the system interacts with the solar wind. New Horizons transformed Pluto from a distant point of light into a complex and diverse world with water ice mountains, nitrogen glaciers, and multiple layers of atmospheric haze. New Horizons is en route to encounter its next target, the small Kuiper Belt Object named 2014 MU69, on January 1, 2019.
Built by APL, the Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory (STEREO) mission consists of two space-based observatories that provide three-dimensional images of the Sun to study the nature of coronal mass ejections. These powerful solar eruptions are a major source of the magnetic disruptions on Earth and a key component of space weather, which can greatly affect satellite operations, communications, power systems, the lives of humans in space, and global climate. STEREO is the third mission in NASA's Solar Terrestrial Probes Program. The twin observatories launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., on October 25, 2006.
The Mini-RF (Miniature Radio Frequency instrument) project consists of two radar instruments designed to map the lunar poles, search for water ice, and demonstrate future communications technologies. The lunar poles are mysterious and relatively unexplored regions that preserve materials from earlier lunar history; their ice deposits have significant potential as a resource for future human explorers. The APL-built Mini-RF experiment has orbited the Moon on two spacecraft platforms, NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and the Indian Space Research Organisation's Chandrayaan-1 mission.
APL's Auroral Particles and Imagery tools and activities include OVATION (Oval Variation, Assessment, Tracking, Intensity, and Online Nowcasting), which aims to define the position of the auroral oval, OVATION Prime, a next-generation precipitation model, and SuperMAG, an international collaboration operating over 300 magnetometers. Further tool development estimates Kp - the global planetary geomagnetic disturbances caused by the solar wind over a 3-hour period, and DST -an index of geomagnetic disturbance.
The Magnetospheric IMaging Instrument (MIMI) is an energetic particle detector built by APL for the Cassini spacecraft. Launched in 1997, Cassini is studying the planet Saturn and its many natural rings and satellites. MIMI is the first instrument ever designed to produce an image of a planetary magnetosphere.
Cassin’s initial four-year mission to explore the Saturn System began June 2008, with the first extension, called the Cassini Equinox Mission, in September 2010; and a second extension for the Cassini Solstice Mission. In late 2016, the Cassini spacecraft began a daring set of orbits called the Grand Finale; Cassini will probe the water-rich plume of the active geysers on the planet’s intriguing moon Enceladus, and then will hop the rings and dive between the planet and its innermost ring 22 times.
Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars
The Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM), a visible-infrared imaging spectrometer with scannable field of view flying aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), seeks and maps mineral evidence for past and present water environments on Mars. Using the spectrum of reflected sunlight CRISM detects fingerprints of minerals formed in liquid water, measures changing amounts of water vapor and dust and ice hazes in the martian atmosphere, and maps Mars' surface features to set the stage for further exploration of the red planet. In over 10 years of operation the APL-built CRISM has returned tens of thousands of high-resolution images of many sites, and discoveries from those data have rewritten understanding of the history of liquid water on Mars.
Ocean remote sensing research is conducted for both civilian and military applications of remote sensing in the marine environment. APL's largest efforts have concentrated on the extraction of oceanographic information from synthetic aperture radar (SAR) imagery and applications of radar altimetry. Sponsoring agencies have included NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Office of Naval Research (ONR), the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and various Navy offices.
Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute
The VOlatiles, Regolith and Thermal Investigations Consortium for Exploration and Science (VORTICES) team is a node on NASA’s Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI). The VORTICES team is focused on understanding resources on future targets for human exploration that contain water (H2O), hydroxyl (OH), or carbon compounds (volatiles). Its work includes determining whether water or hydroxyl is the dominant type of volatile on lunar and asteroidal surfaces; investigating the processes by which volatiles are created and destroyed; researching how volatile production is affected by mineral composition of these bodies' fragmental surface layers (or "regoliths"); understanding how volatiles are transported across and in regoliths; studying the manner in which regoliths form and evolve; and examining the effects of the deep space environment on the composition and texture of regoliths.
The Energetic Particle and Ion Composition (EPIC) instrument measures the distribution functions of major ion species to increase our understanding of the outer magnetosphere and the overall dynamics of the geomagnetic tail. EPIC is on the GEOTAIL spacecraft, which launched on July 24, 1992. The instrument has obtained information on the origin, transport, storage, acceleration, and dynamics of suprathermal and non-thermal particle populations.
The Super Dual Auroral Radar Network (SuperDARN) is an international radar network of 11 high-frequency radars that study the upper atmosphere and ionosphere. These radars measure the plasma in the Earth's ionosphere and can be used to make inferences about the Earth's magnetosphere and ionosphere and how they react to solar activities. Plasma motion can also be used to study the coupling between the magnetosphere and the ionosphere.
The Far Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Explorer (FUSE) astrophysics satellite/telescope was a NASA-supported mission that searched for deuterium by high-resolution spectroscopy in the far-ultraviolet spectral region. FUSE investigated the basic astrophysical processes related to the formation and development of the early universe, as well as the origin and evolution of galaxies, solar systems, and stars. Managed by APL, FUSE launched in June 24, 1999, and operated until October 18, 2007. After FUSE's 3-year primary mission, NASA extended its operations several times, allowing hundreds of astronomers from all over the world to observe nearly 3,000 different astronomical objects.
Built by APL, NEAR (Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous) Shoemaker flew by the dark, primitive main belt asteroid 253 Mathilde and proceeded to orbit the near-Earth asteroid 433 Eros, where it conducted in depth studies for one year. It was the first spacecraft to encounter a dark, primitive asteroid, and to orbit and land on an asteroid. NEAR, the first mission of NASA's Discovery Program of low-cost, scientifically focused planetary missions, launched in 1996 and began orbiting Eros in February 2000. While in orbit, it collected 10 times more data than originally planned and completed all of its science goals before successfully landing on Eros on February 12, 2001. NEAR Shoemaker's measurements of Eros' chemical composition confirm that it is composed of the same type of material that makes up the most common meteorite type to fall to Earth, called ordinary chondrite.
The COmet Nucleus TOUR (CONTOUR) mission was launched in 2002 in order to study two very different comets, Encke and Schwassmann-Wachmann-3, as they made their periodic visits to the inner solar system. At each comet flyby, the spacecraft was to get as close as 60 miles to the comet nucleus to capture high-resolution pictures, perform detailed compositional analyses of gas and dust, and determine the comet's precise orbit. CONTOUR was lost shortly after launch.
The Active Magnetospheric Particle Tracer Explorers (AMPTE) program was a three-nation, three-spacecraft mission designed to study both energetic magnetospheric ions and the interaction between an artificial plasma and the hot, natural plasmas of the magnetosphere and solar wind. Launched in 1984 and built by APL, the Charge Composition Explorer was one of three spacecraft comprising the mission, was instrumented to detect energetic ion spectra, composition, and charge state throughout the near-Earth magnetosphere.
Heliosphere Instrument for Spectrum, Composition, and Anisotropy at Low Energies
Built by APL, the Heliosphere Instrument for Spectrum, Composition, and Anisotropy at Low Energies (HI-SCALE) was part of the scientific payload of Ulysses. The primary mission of the Ulysses spacecraft was to characterize the heliosphere, a vast region of interplanetary space occupied by the Sun's atmosphere and dominated by the outflow of the solar wind. Launched by the space shuttle Discovery on October 6, 1990, Ulysses and HI-SCALE provided a wealth of information about the energetic particles in the heliosphere until spacecraft operations ceased in June 2009.
IMP-8 is the last of 10 Interplanetary Monitoring Platforms (IMPs) that measured the magnetic fields, plasmas, and energetic charged particles of Earth's magnetotail and magnetosheath and of the near-Earth solar wind. The IMP-8 satellite launched in 1973, and APL provided two of its instruments, Charged Particle Measurement Experiment (CPME) and Energetic Particle Experiment (EPE), both of which returned high-quality energetic ion and electron data covering a wide variety of ion species, energy ranges, angular distributions, and time resolutions.
The Flare Genesis flight in 2000 from Antarctica was a balloon-borne solar observatory that aims to understand the origins of solar activity. The objective is to understand how the magnetic fields at the solar surface emerge, coalesce, unravel, and erupt in solar flares. Flares, Ellerman bombs, and coronal heating are caused by dissipation of energy associated with current-carrying magnetic flux ropes. Observations found that magnetic flux emerges through the solar surface in relatively tiny strands that undulate with a characteristic wavelength of 3000 km, showing agreement with models.
Launched in 1992, the Swedish satellite Freja was designed to image the aurora and measure particles and fields in the upper ionosphere and lower magnetosphere. The mission continued the investigations begun by its predecessor, Viking. Magnetic Field Experiment (MFE), the only U.S. principal experiment onboard, was provided by APL in cooperation with NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. MFE monitored ionospheric current systems, and its computer allowed extensive onboard processing that had traditionally been performed after the fact on recorded data.
APL's Low Energy Charged Particle (LECP) experiment onboard Voyager 1 first sensed the termination shock of the solar wind in December 2004. Voyager 1 and its twin, Voyager 2, are now exploring the shocked solar wind in the inner heliosheath and heading toward the heliopause. Launched in 1977, the Voyager spacecraft performed a reconnaissance of our outer planets and are currently venturing into regions of our solar system that have never before been explored.
Planetary Object Geophysical Observer (POGO) is a hopping lander under development by APL for use on small planetary bodies such as comets, asteroids, and small moons. It can provide valuable information about the composition and the surface of small bodies. POGO can land at any latitude, sun or shade, and operate on the surface for around 5 days. It hops along the surface by actuating a simple voice coil mechanism. A prototype was developed and tested by APL, and has been funded by NASA New Frontiers Homesteader grant.
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Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes
The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) is an instrument aboard a 3U CubeSat launched November 11, 2016. APL designed the instrument to demonstrate carbon nanotube technologies to measure the Earth's energy imbalance, or the difference between the total solar input versus that reflected or emitted back into space. The flow of Earth's energy is a key climate measurement; climate models are tuned to what we know about the Earth's incoming—outgoing energy imbalance. This pathfinder mission is funded through NASA's Earth Science Technology Office InVEST Program.
If a small asteroid is ever found to be on a collision course with Earth, a kinetic impact is the simplest means to deflect the asteroid's course. NASA's DART (Double Asteroid Redeflection Test) mission will be the first flight demonstration of asteroid deflection using the kinetic impact technique. DART’s target is the moon of the asteroid Didymos, which DART will track and impact. The momentum transferred to the moon by DART's impact will change the moon's course. DART is directed by NASA's Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO) and undertaken by a team led by Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory.
APL's balloon program has a two decade history of flying balloon missions and instruments to observe planetary targets and other science investigations. Past history includes Flare Genesis and STO; more recent history includes planetary observations BRRISON, BOPPS, and STO-II, an astrophysics mission. BOPPS: Balloon Observation Platform for Planetary Science (BOPPS) was the follow-on mission to BRRISON. BOPPS launched Sept 25, 2014 from Fort Sumner, New Mexico, and observed a number of targets: Comet Siding Spring, Comet Jacques, the asteroid Ceres and the double star Castor, demonstrating the ability of stratospheric balloon platforms to conduct planetary science. STO-II launched in 2016 and performed large-scale, high resolution spectroscopic galactic surveys. The platform continues to be baselined for future missions.
JUICE - JUpiter ICy moons Explorer - is a European Space Agency (ESA) mission planned for launch in 2022 and arrival at Jupiter in 2030. The mission will spend at least three years making detailed observations of the giant gaseous planet Jupiter and three of its largest moons, Ganymede, Callisto and Europa. APL is building two space environment instruments as part of the NASA contribution to ESA: JoEE (Jovian Energetic Electrons) and JENI (Jovian Energetic Neutrals and Ions), for the Particle Environment Package sensor suite, which will characterize the plasma environment of Jupiter and the Jovian system.
Europa, the icy moon of Jupiter, is a tantalizing mission target. Offering abundant salt water, a rocky sea floor, and the energy and chemistry provided by tidal heating, Europa could be the best place in the solar system to look for present day life beyond our home planet. A key element of this exploration is visual imagery of the Jupiter system; APL is building the Europa Imaging System (EIS) for NASA’s Europa Clipper. EIS is an camera to observe the icy moon from an orbital vantage point to further our understanding of Jupiter through high-resolution images, near-global imaging, color mosaics, and 3D maps. The Europa Clipper will launch in 2022 to place a spacecraft in orbit around Jupiter and perform a detailed investigation of the giant planet's moon Europa.
The APL built Plasma Instrument for Magnetic Sounding (PIMS) will measure and accurately correct the magnetic induction signal for plasma currents around Europa, thus providing a is key to determining Europa's ice shell thickness, ocean thickness, and salinity. PIMS will determine Europa's magnetic induction response in order to estimate ocean salinity and thickness. It will also investigate the mechanisms responsible for weathering and releasing material from Europa's surface into the atmosphere, and investigate how Europa influences its local space environment and Jupiter's magnetosphere. PIMS will launch aboard the Europa Clipper in 2022 and will perform detailed investigations of the Jupiter’s moon Europa.
NASA’s Lucy Discovery mission will study the geology, surface composition and bulk properties of six Trojans asteroids that orbit in tandem with Jupiter and contain primordial material that formed the outer planets. APL leads the Lucy Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (L’LORRI) investigation. L’LORRI produces high spatial resolution images of the visited Trojans revealing the detailed surface morphology through geological maps and surface ages through crater counts. In addition, L’LORRI enables deep searches for satellites and rings and provides spacecraft OpNav capabilities. These measurements are crucial for understanding Trojan diversity and provide insights into the origin of the Solar System through the study of these primitive remnants from the birth of the planets. L’LORRI is nearly identical to the highly successful New Horizons LORRI imager.
Image credit: Southwest Research Institute NASA’s Lucy mission will launch in 2021 for the first reconnaissance of the Trojans, a population of primitive asteroids orbiting in tandem with Jupiter. In this artist’s concept (not to scale), the Lucy spacecraft is flying by Eurybates, one of the six diverse and scientifically important Trojans to be studied.
Image credit: NASA/JHUAPL/Southwest Research Institute L’LORRI is a version of the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) — currently flying on NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft — tailored to Lucy’s mission to observe several Trojan asteroids. Built by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, LORRI provided the sharpest views ever of Pluto’s diverse and dynamic surface, like this image of the dwarf planet’s icy mountain ridges and cratered plains.
JEDI is the APL-built Jupiter Energetic Particle Detector Instrument (JEDI) on NASA's Juno Jupiter polar-orbiting mission. JEDI will measure charged particles accelerated to high energies within Jupiter’s magnetosphere, allowing researchers to study how their interaction with Jupiter's atmosphere generates the most powerful aurora in the solar system. Its measurements are coordinated with other space physics instruments on the Juno spacecraft to characterize and understand the space environment of Jupiter's polar regions, and specifically to understand the generation of Jupiter's powerful aurora. Juno successfully entered the orbit of Jupiter on July 4, 2016 to observe below the dense cloud cover of Jupiter. The objective of JEDI is to study the particles that create the Jovian aurora, including the acceleration and current regions over the polar caps of Jupiter.
NASA's Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) is a mission of four spacecraft in orbit through near-Earth space to observe a little-understood process called magnetic reconnection. Each craft carries an Energetic Ion Spectrometer (EIS) and a pair of all-sky particle samplers called the Fly’s Eye Energetic Particle Sensor (FEEPS). When magnetic field lines snap and join back together in new formations, some of the energy that was stored in the magnetic field is converted to particle energy in the forms of heat and kinetic energy. These EIS and FEEPS measurements examine which particles can escape the Earth system and join the interplanetary medium. Magnetic reconnection occurs when magnetic fields around Earth connect and disconnect, explosively releasing energy.
NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, and Security–Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) New Frontiers mission will return the first pristine samples of carbonaceous material from the surface of a primitive asteroid, (101955) Bennu. OSIRIS-REx will arrive at Bennu in August 2018, make extensive measurements for two years, acquire a sample in July 2020, and return the sample to Earth in September 2023. APL leads the Altimetry Working Group, responsible for measuring and understanding Bennu’s shape, topography, and geophysical properties. The APL-led Altimetry Working Group generates local and global topographic maps for science analyses and to support manual and autonomous navigation.
The high gain antenna and solar arrays were installed on the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft prior to it moving to environmental testing. 11/2015. – Lockheed Martin Corporation
The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, aboard a ULA Atlas V rocket, races toward its rendezvous with asteroid Bennu. Sept. 8, 2016 – United Launch Alliance
OSIRIS-REx Mission Logo
OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft at the Asteroid Bennu
OLA: Canada's contribution to the OSIRIS-REx mission - A Canadian laser will make a 3D map of an asteroid and sleuth out the best sample site for NASA's OSIRIS-REx mission. (Credit: Canadian Space Agency)
The Psyche mission will explore asteroid 16 Psyche, a 200-km-diameter asteroid composed of iron and nickel and thought to be the exposed core of a now-disrupted protoplanet. APL leads the Psyche Gamma-Ray and Neutron Spectrometer (GRNS) investigation, including the design, assembly, and operation of the instrument. GRNS will measure the elemental composition of Psyche’s surface to determine how Psyche formed. The Psyche GRNS is based on the successful MESSENGER GRNS heritage, will provide chemical measurements and maps of Psyche’s surface to test the hypothesis that Psyche is indeed a planetary core and, if so, how it formed. These measurements are crucial to understanding planetary formation processes, not only on Psyche but throughout the solar system.
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An artistic rendition of the Psyche spacecraft. The APL-led Gamma-Ray and Neutron Spectrometer will be located on one of the two booms, seen here extending beyond the circular antenna. Image courtesy of Space Systems Loral.
Graphic illustration of proposed processes for forming Psyche, and its relationship to the terrestrial planets. As the exposed core of a protoplanet, Psyche offers a window into the cores of the terrestrial planets, including Earth. Image courtesy of the Arizona State University.
An artistic rendition of asteroid 16 Psyche. The overall shape is informed by measurements of the asteroid provided by the Arecibo radio telescope. The surface features depicted here here based on models of the evolution of Psyche’s crust. Image courtesy of the Arizona State University.
Psyche mission logo. Image courtesy of the Arizona State University.
Mars-moon Exploration with GAmma rays and NEutrons (MEGANE) on the JAXA Martian Moons eXploration (MMX) Mission
The Martian Moons eXploration (MMX) mission is in development by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). Planned for launch in 2024, MMX will visit both of the Martian moons, Phobos and Deimos, land on the surface of the larger moon Phobos, collect a surface sample, and then return that sample to Earth. On behalf of NASA, APL is leading and building one of the spacecraft’s seven science instruments: a gamma-ray and neutron spectrometer named MEGANE (an acronym for Mars-moon Exploration with GAmma rays and NEutrons, pronounced 'meh-gah-nay).
MEGANE means "eyeglasses" in Japanese, and the instrument will give MMX the ability to "see" the elemental composition of the moons by measuring the naturally emitted gamma rays and neutrons. These gamma rays and neutrons are generated by cosmic rays that continually strike and penetrate the surfaces and from natural radioactivity in the rocks that make up the Martian moons. MEGANE's compositional measurements will provide key information to help determine whether the Martian moons are captured asteroids or the result of a larger body hitting Mars. MEGANE data will also be used to study surface processes on the moons and to support site selection for the MMX-gathered samples that will be returned to Earth, providing critical context for the returned samples.
Artist’s concept of Japan’s Mars Moons eXploration (MMX) spacecraft to study the Martian moons Phobos and Deimos.
Graphic with the logo of the JAXA MMX mission
Credit: JAXA/MMX website: http://mmx.isas.jaxa.jp/en/index.html
Graphic of MEGANE name, which means "eyeglasses" in Japanese
Artist’s concept of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's MMX mission to explore the two Martian moons; the inset shows MEGANE, the APL-built gamma-ray and neutron spectrometer that will measure the surface composition (Credit: APL/JAXA)