Japan considers postponing the 2024 launch of Mars moon probe to 2026

Japan is reevaluating its timeline for the Martian Moons Exploration project, with sources close to the matter revealing that the country is considering postponing the retrieval of the world’s first Martian moon surface samples from 2024 to 2026. This delay is due to complications with Japan’s new flagship H3 rocket, which is essential for facilitating the probe’s launch.

The potential postponement would have significant implications for the MMX project, as it would mean that the probe would no longer be able to arrive in the Martian system during the 2025 World Exposition in Osaka. This would dash hopes of livestreaming detailed images from the Martian moons to the expo venue, a highly anticipated highlight of the event.

The decision to reconsider the project’s timeline comes in the wake of the failed inaugural launch of Japan’s next-generation H3 rocket in March. This rocket, developed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., experienced a major setback when it resulted in the loss of a key satellite during its maiden flight.

In an effort to prevent a similar incident from occurring with the second H3 rocket, which is slated for launch by March 2024, modifications have been made to its payload as a precautionary measure. The success of this upcoming launch will ultimately determine whether the MMX probe and satellites will be carried on the third H3 rocket or a later mission.

Due to the varying distances between Earth and Mars, the launch window for the probe’s orbit around Mars is limited, with the next feasible opportunity not occurring until around 2026. However, rescheduling the launch may prove challenging given the prioritization of other satellite launches during this time period.

As things currently stand, the MMX probe is scheduled to be launched in September 2024 and to reach the Martian system by August 2025. Once there, it will land on one of Mars’ two moons, Phobos, to collect a surface sample, which is expected to provide valuable insights into the evolution of the Martian system.

Despite the delays and challenges faced by other countries, including the United States, Europe, and China, in their efforts to retrieve samples from the Martian system, Japan still stands a high chance of being the first in the world to achieve this feat, regardless of the two-year postponement.

While the Japanese government had initially explored the possibility of using a rocket from U.S. firm SpaceX as an alternative to the H3, it became apparent that this option would also not allow for meeting the 2024 deadline.

In light of these developments, the future of Japan’s mission to retrieve samples from the Martian moons remains uncertain, with the country grappling with the complexities and setbacks associated with its flagship H3 rocket. Despite the challenges, Japan’s determination to lead the way in extraterrestrial exploration remains undeterred.


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