Several missions to Mars are reaching the planet this month, with this week seeing two missions arrive in the orbit of our third nearest celestial neighbour.
The first spacecraft to arrive in the orbit of Mars this week was the United Arab Emirates’ Hope.
What is interesting about Hope is what it hopes to accomplish while in orbit.
According to Nature, the spacecraft will enter “science orbit”. Here, the craft will take high-resolution and infrared images as well as use an ultraviolet spectrometer to collect data. This data will be used to create a map of Martian weather once every nine days and this thanks to “science orbit” allowing the craft to capture all of the planet’s geography.
Hope launched from the Tanegashima Space Center near Minamitane, Japan in July 2020. Interestingly, the launch took place when Earth and Mars were closely aligned which only happens every 26 months. This allowed Hope to reach Mars in just seven months.
At around the same time, China was launching it’s Mars probe.
The most recent arrival is China’s Tianwen-1 which is currently orbiting the red planet.
In three months, according to Nature, Tianwen-1 will deploy a lander and a rover to the Mars surface. The orbiter is also being put to work and with its onboard instruments, it will be capturing images of the Utopia Planitia region of Mars.
Much like other missions, the goal is to determine whether there were ever oceans on the Martian surface.
China is also testing whether it will be able to send soil samples back to Earth. Though that test will likely only happen in a few years. You may recall China managed to send back soil samples from the Moon. Mars is quite a bit further away so the Tianwen-1 will hopefully help China determine whether it’s possible.
But we’re not done yet.
Later this month, NASA’s Perseverance rover is set to arrive on Mars. Unlike the Chinese and UAE mission, NASA is gunning straight for the Martian surface.
Launched in – you guessed it – July 2020, Perseverance is set to arrive on Mars on 18th February.
Now, NASA is no stranger to landing on Mars but that doesn’t make it easy.
NASA will be attempting a landing at Jezero Crater which is thought to have had water in the past. The rover is also carrying a helicopter with it called Ingenuity. This helicopter will be deployed after the rover has landed.
While NASA will have a front row seat of the landing it’s unlikely that it will broadcast those images to the public. We stand to be corrected though and we will be tuning into the landing attempt next week.
And it’s going to be exciting, CNET reports that Perseverance will enter the Martian atmosphere at 19 312kmph before it begins to slow. A 21 meter wide parachute will assist in the descent but a mix of descent modules and the new terrain relative navigation system will help bring the rover down safely. At least that’s the hope.
Mars really is a hive of activity at the moment and we hope that with all these eyes on the planet, a really interesting discovery is made.
[Image – CC 0 Pixabay]