It could become the first ever spacecraft to make it to the Martian system and back.

Martian Moons Exploration

Japanese space agency JAXA announced today it has greenlit a sample return mission to the Martian moon Phobos called the Martian Moons Exploration mission (MMX). If it's successful, it could result in the first vehicle in the history of space travel that's made it to the Martian system and back home, here, to Earth.

The plan is to launch a spacecraft to the moon in 2024, and then, spend three years surveying both of Mars' moons, Phobos and Deimos. The idea's to create a detailed map of both moons' surfaces, using 11 (11!) instruments the craft will be equipped with to do so.

If all goes well, the spacecraft will collect a ground sample of just ten grams from at least two centimeters below the moon's surface before taking the long trip home.

Martian Evolution

The mission could answer a pretty simple question: How did both of Mars' moons form? Are they asteroids trapped in Mars' gravity, or did they split off the Red Planet after a violent event?

Scientists also want to know how Mars acquired its water during its suspected Earth-like environment phase that took place eons ago. By investigating the composition of the planet's two moons, scientists are hoping to understand Mars' evolution better.

The news comes after JAXA managed to land a spacecraft called Hayabusa2 on a tiny distant asteroid called Ryugu last year to collect rock samples.

READ MORE: Japan greenlights mission to bring back sample of Mars moon Phobos [CNET]

More on Japan's space ambitions: NASA Proposed Sending Japanese Astronauts to the Moon

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