Visibility analysis of Phobos to support a science and exploration platform

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The surfaces of the Martian moons, Phobos and Deimos may offer a stable environment for long-term operation of platforms. We present a broad assessment of potential scientific investigations, as well as strategic and operational opportunities offered by long-term operation of an instrumented lander. Studies using observations of Mars’ moons, and the detailed new findings expected from the JAXA Martian Moons eXploration (MMX) mission, International Mars Sample Return (MSR) Campaign and other upcoming Mars missions, provide a driver for feasibility and trade studies for follow-on missions that would build on the knowledge gain from those missions. We discuss the scientific questions and operational objectives that may be pertinent for landed platforms on the martian moons, including (1) monitoring and scientific investigations of Mars’ surface and atmosphere, (2) scientific investigations of the martian moons, (3) monitoring and scientific investigations of the space environment, (4) data relay for Mars surface assets or interplanetary missions and 5) use in a Mars navigation/positioning system. We present results from visibility calculations performed using the SPICE observation geometry system for space science missions, and a Phobos shape model. We compute as a function of location on Phobos, visibility quantities that are most relevant to science and operational objectives. These include visibility from Phobos of the Sun, Earth, Mars surface and atmosphere, Deimos, and Jupiter. We also consider occultation events by the Mars atmosphere of Earth and Deimos that may provide opportunities for radio science. Calculations are performed for a study period spanning one Mars year in a hypothetical future operational scenario (1 Jan 2030–18 Nov 2031). We combine visibility metrics to identify locations on Phobos most suitable for long-term operation of a platform. We find the Mars-facing side of Phobos, and limited areas on the leading and trailing sides, satisfy the most requirements defined for Mars and Phobos science, space environment monitoring, and data relay/navigation. We demonstrate that compliance with requirements related to visibility of Mars and its atmosphere are not mutually exclusive with those that are better satisfied on Phobos’ anti-Mars side, such as those aided by maximizing their cumulative view factor to the ecliptic plane (i.e. visibility to the Sun, Earth or outer solar system). Finally, our methodology allows to assess the extent to which combined visibility metrics can meet mission requirements. The process we describe can be used to support landing site identification and selection on planets, moons and small bodies. Graphical Abstract: [Figure not available: see fulltext.]

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Sefton-Nash, E., Thébault, G., Witasse, O., Koschny, D., Sánchez-Cano, B., & Cardesín-Moinelo, A. (2021). Visibility analysis of Phobos to support a science and exploration platform. Earth, Planets and Space, 73(1).

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