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Japanese space agency plans to get samples from Martian moon

The first-of-its-kind mission by the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency could launch as soon as 2022.

By Stephen Feller
Japanese space agency plans to get samples from Martian moon
As the U.S., European and Russian space agencies plan trips to Mars, the Japanese space agency is considering an unmanned mission to one of the planet's two moons to collect samples to bring back to Earth for analysis. Photo: Tristan3D/Shutterstock

TOKYO, June 12 (UPI) -- The Japanese space agency announced Thursday a plan to send a spacecraft to one of the two Martian moons for surface samples to bring back to Earth for analysis.

The early plan to travel to either Phobos or Deimos was approved at a subcommittee meeting and will next go before the Japanese government's space policy council for formal approval, according to Nikkei.

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Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, officials told the panel the round trip would take between 3 and 7 years, depending on the route it takes and on which of the moons the probe lands before turning around to bring samples home.

While the U.S., Russian and European space agencies have already sent probes to Mars, and India has a satellite orbiting the planet, Japan was the first in 2010 to land on an asteroid and bring samples back to Earth.

JAXA announced in May it would be considering the feasibility and costs of a mission to a Martian moon, and details of the spacecraft, including size and engine type, have not been devised yet, the Japan Times reported.

If approved by the full government council, the Japanese ministry of education would begin seeking the roughly $241 million it expects the Martian moon mission to cost. Several reports said the mission could begin as soon as 2022, however an agency representative told the Wall Street Journal that no time frame has been set.

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