Mars: Three New Space Missions Reach the Red Planet – Here’s What You Need To Know | Science & Tech News


In the next two weeks, three space missions will reach Mars, an orbiter and two landers, after spending seven months in space.

The three missions, launched in July 2020, formed a wave of unmanned spacecraft from the US, China and the United Arab Emirates to see if Mars was ever habitable and to see if it could be possible again.

The timing of the launches was dictated by the orbits of Mars and Earth, with a single month-long window in which the planets are close enough to make the seven-month journey possible. That window would not have reopened for another 26 months.

Here are the dates to put in your journal and an explanation of what to expect.

February 9, the United Arab Emirates’ Amal probe

Depiction of the UAE satellite over Mars. Image: Emirates Mission to Mars

The United Arab Emirates launched their first mission to Mars from Japan’s Tanegashima Space Center on July 19, 2020. Of the three missions, it may be the least risky – but it will also be the first to begin.

The £ 160 million satellite is said to provide a picture of Mars’ atmosphere and study the daily and seasonal changes on the planet, as well as propelling the UAE’s science and technology sector and enabling it to break away from its economic reliance on oil.

On the Emirates Mars Mission (EMM), the Amal (Hope) probe will be launched into orbit around the planet on February 9, when data is sent back to Earth with a delay of between 13 and 26 minutes.

Scientists believe Mars was once rich in water and possibly life. The UAE Space Agency said, “One of the culprits in turning this planet into a dry, dusty one is climate change and atmospheric loss.”

Sarah Amiri, Deputy Project Manager for the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Mars Mission, stands on stage during a ceremony to unveil the mission in Dubai on May 6, 2015. The UAE's Mars mission aims to provide a global picture of the Martian atmosphere through a probe called Al Amal, which is scheduled to be launched in July 2020 to reach Mars in 2021, according to the engineers involved in the project. AFP PHOTO / KARIM SAHIB (Photo credit should be KARIM SAHIB / AFP via Getty Images)
Sarah Amiri, deputy project manager of the mission, announces this

The agency’s probe will monitor the Mars weather system, as well as the distribution of hydrogen and oxygen in the upper parts of the Martian atmosphere, so humankind can understand the relationship between weather change and atmospheric loss.

“With three scientific instruments aboard the spacecraft, EMM will provide a series of measurements that are fundamental to a better understanding of circulation and weather in the lower and middle Martian atmospheres,” said the Emirates space agency.

“By combining such data with monitoring the upper layers of the atmosphere, EMM measurements will reveal the mechanisms behind the upward transport of energy and particles and the subsequent escape of atmospheric particles from the gravitational force of Mars.”

February 10, China’s Tianwen-1 Mission

Tianwen-1 was successfully launched from Hainan Island off the south coast of China
Tianwen-1 was successfully launched from Hainan Island off the south coast of China

China joined the search for signs of life on the red planet and launched its own Mars rover into space on July 23, 2020.

Tianwen-1, which means “Seeking Heavenly Truth,” took off from Hainan Island, off the south coast of China, with hundreds of spectators watching from a nearby beach.

Orbital deployment is scheduled for February 10, although the lander will not attempt to reach solid Martian soil until May. There you should look for underground water and look for possible ancient forms of life.

The Chinese National Space Administration, like most government departments in China, is much less public and transparent about its work than NASA, and it is not clear how much information is made public about the mission.

China's Mars rover hopes to land at Utopia Planitia
China’s Mars rover hopes to land in Utopia Planitia

The tandem spacecraft – with an orbiter and a lander containing the rover – is expected to enter orbit around Mars in February and is slated to land on a landing pad on Utopia Planitia.

NASA has discovered possible signs of ice at the site, according to an article in Nature Astronomy by mission chief Wan Weixing, who died in May last year after fighting cancer.

The 240 kg solar-powered device will be in operation for about three months when it touches down on Mars and sniff for biomolecules and biosignatures in the ground, while the orbiter is expected to last two years.

The launch is China’s second attempt to get to Mars.

Only the United States has successfully landed a spaceship on Mars, eight times since 1976.

More than half of the spacecraft sent there have either been blown up, burned, or plunged to the surface, including China’s last attempt – in collaboration with Russia – in 2011.

February 18th, NASA endurance rover

PIA23962: Portrait of Perseverance and Ingenuity (artist concept) In February 2021, NASA's Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover and NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter (shown in an artist concept) will be exhibiting the agency's two newest explorers on Mars. Both were named by students in an essay competition. Endurance is the most nifty rover NASA has ever sent to Mars. Ingenuity, a technology experiment, will be the first aircraft to attempt controlled flight on another planet. Persistence will
An artist concept of the Perseverance Rover on Mars. Image: NASA

NASA’s Mars 2020 mission was launched on July 30, 2020 from Cape Canaveral, Florida and is expected to examine the Martian environment for signs of its earlier habitability as well as signs of life after seven months in space.

The mission is scheduled to land on Mars in the early afternoon of February 18, 2021. There won’t be much time for reflection as she heads for the surface of Mars.

This representation of the Mars 2020 spacecraft in interplanetary space was created using images from NASA's Eyes on the Solar System. The picture comes from the middle of the mission between Earth and Mars. Photo credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech
This depiction of the Mars 2020 spacecraft in interplanetary space was created using images from NASA’s Eyes on the Solar System. The picture comes from the middle of the mission between Earth and Mars. Photo credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

Excitingly, according to NASA, the mission carries more cameras with it than any other interplanetary mission in history.

The rover itself has 19 cameras that send back breathtaking images of the Martian landscape, while four more cameras are attached to the parts of the spacecraft that are involved in entry, descent and landing.

This allows engineers to compile a high-resolution view of the landing process and follow employees at home with raw and processed images.

The rover, which has a mass of 1,050 kg, could easily simply contribute to the craters on the planet’s surface.

NASA hopes their brand new guidance and parachute deployment technology will help keep the rover out of these dangers, but its controllers on Earth will be helpless.

Radio transmissions from Mars take 10 minutes to reach Earth. When the controllers see that persistence has entered the atmosphere, it is either already landed or destroyed.

NASA has announced that the rover will land in Jezero crater. Image: NASA
NASA has announced that the rover will land in Jezero crater. Image: NASA

The Perseverance Rover is said to land in an ancient river delta and former lake on the surface of Mars known as the Jezero Crater.

Jezero Crater is full of obstacles and hazards for the rover, including boulders, cliffs, sand dunes, and depressions, any of which could end the mission, both upon landing and when the rover travels over the surface.

The deposits in the crater are rich in clay minerals, which form in the presence of water, meaning that life may have existed there – and such sediments on Earth are known to store microscopic fossils.

Scientists have also determined that the crater does not have a depth equal to its diameter, meaning that sediment likely got into the crater through flowing water – possibly up to a kilometer from it.

An artist's impression of the Mars helicopter on the red planet. Image: NASA
An artistic impression of the Mars helicopter on the red planet. Image: NASA

Endurance is also endowed with a miniature helicopter called Ingenuity, which weighs only 1.8 kg and will be the first rotary wing aircraft to fly on another planet.

“The laws of physics may say it’s nearly impossible to fly on Mars, but in fact, it’s a lot harder to fly a vehicle heavier than air on the red planet,” the space agency quipped.

The small helicopter underwent a series of exercises simulating the mission at a test facility in California, including a high-vibration environment to mimic how it will hold up under take-off and landing conditions, as well as extreme temperature fluctuations like those on Mars occur.

The autonomous test helicopter has an on-board camera and is powered by a solar panel, but does not contain any scientific instruments.

NASA would like to develop the drone as a prototype to test whether it could be worthwhile to attach scientific sensors to similar devices in the future.

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