Space.com takes a look at missions being planned for the Martian moon Phobos. Most of the story is about Russia’s massive Phobos-Grunt spacecraft, which is designed to return soil samples to Earth. That mission was set for launch later this year, but it will likely be delayed for two years.
The story also provides some details on a pair of other missions designed to study the potato-shaped moon:
Another mission headed by Optech Inc. and the Mars Institute, and funded as a concept study by the Canadian Space Agency, is called PRIME, for “Phobos Reconnaissance and International Mars Exploration.” The PRIME mission would be composed of an orbiter and lander, and each would carry 4 instruments designed to study various aspects of Phobos’s geology.
Yet another mission concept, the Phobos-Deimos Sample Return Mission (SRM), is being studied by NASA’s Glenn Research Center. This mission would rely on low-cost electric propulsion to land on Phobos and Deimos and bring back samples from the two moons.
These mission studies are proceeding in part on the philosophy that Phobos could be key to the future human exploration of Mars. Not only does the ease of landing and taking off from Phobos make it a good pit stop between Earth and Mars, but because Phobos is tidally-locked, always showing the same face to Mars, it could be a stable location for a Mars communications relay or some sort of monitoring station.
At present, neither PRIME nor the Phobos-Deimos SRM has a projected launch date.