ESA’s Mars Express spacecraft, while executing a series of 12 flybys of Mars’ largest moon Phobos, passed the moon’s surface at an altitude of 67km on March 3 at 20:55 GMT. The close approach enabled scientists to gain valuable data an learn more about the mysterious moon.
Another flyby close of Phobos occurred on 7 March 2010, and ESA has just released the photos. The images show Mars’ rocky moon in exquisite detail, with a resolution of just 4.4 meters per pixel. They show the proposed landing sites for the forthcoming Phobos-Grunt mission.
In 2011 Russia will send a mission called Phobos–Grunt (meaning Phobos Soil) to land on the martian moon, collect a soil sample and return it to Earth for analysis.
For operational and landing safety reasons, the proposed landing sites were selected on the far side of Phobos. This region was imaged by the HRSC high-resolution camera of Mars Express during the July-August 2008 flybys of Phobos. But new HRSC images showing the vicinity of the landing area under different conditions, such as better illumination from the Sun, remain highly valuable for mission planners.