It starts with hope and ends with persistence.
Three spacecraft carrying the ambitions and concerns of space agencies of three different countries are set to arrive on Mars this month, leading scientists to hope that a new wave of red planet exploration may form.
The buzz of activity starts on Tuesday, as the UAE’s Hope probe prepares to enter Mars orbit. A day later, an orbiter and rover launched by China’s space agency are expected to hit the Red Planet. And NASA’s Perseverance Rover, the much-anticipated follow-up to Curiosity Rover, will attempt to touch the Martian surface Feb. 18.
These events not only mark a busy month for Mars, but also highlight that the field of space exploration – long dominated by the United States and Russia – is evolving.
“It’s almost like the Olympics, in that it is competitive but inspires good feelings,” said Robert Marbin, author of “The Case for Mars” and founder of Mars, a nonprofit organization based on the Red Planet Advocates human exploration.
NASA’s history of robotic Mars exploration spans more than 50 years, but both the UAE and China are attempting to draw major milestones on the Red Planet for their first missions. If successful, the UAE would become only the fifth nation or unit to successfully place a spacecraft around Mars. China is also dying to join the elite ranks that were currently held by the US, the former Soviet Union, the European Space Agency and India.
“It’s remarkable, and more merger,” Zubrin said. “The more players, the more searches.”
And the resulting searches can be monumental. China’s Tianwen-1 mission and NASA’s Fortitude Rover are designed to search for signs of ancient life on Mars. Studying the geology of Mars and hunting for fossil microbial life on the planet can also lead to important scientific discoveries closer to home.
Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator at NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said in a statement that the Perseverance Rover “has the opportunity to investigate one of humanity’s most important and exciting questions about the origin of life on Earth and on other planets as well . “
But the missions to Mars are challenging, starting with months of travel that cover millions of miles, rendezvous with the red planet.
The UAE’s Hope spacecraft, which launched in July 2020, is expected to arrive at Mars at around 10:30 am on Tuesday. The SUV’s size probe will conduct a series of tactical engine burns to slow itself down before the spacecraft slips into Mars’ orbit.
UAE Space Agency chair Sarah Al Amiri and Minister of State for Advanced Technology called the complex maneuver the “most challenging phase” of the mission. He said the engine burned has been “heavily rehearsed”, but has acknowledged the high rate of failure of previous Mars missions.
“We understood from day one of working on this mission that statistics are only half of the missions that succeed in entering orbit around Mars,” Al Amiri said on 1 February, The Planetary Society And 1 webinar organized by US-UAE Business. Council, a Washington-based business organization, DC
The UAE partnered with the University of Colorado at Boulder to build the spacecraft, which is designed to study the atmosphere of Mars. If the $ 200 million-plus mission is successful, it could serve as an important model for other smaller countries, Zubrin said.
“It shows that this is an activity in which any nation can participate – you don’t have to be a superpower,” he said.
On the other hand, China has stepped up its space program rapidly in just a few decades. Some details about the Tianwen-1 mission have been made public, but the orbiter and rover are expected to arrive on Mars on Wednesday.
“The United States began exploring Mars based on the number of Mars flying, then orbiters, then static landers and then rovers,” said Zubrin. “China is doing all this at once in its first mission. It is a very bold thing. They are literally bursting on the stage of Mars exploration. “
The Tianwen-1 orbiter is designed to circle the Red Planet and map the Martian surface using a radar instrument that can measure soil and water-ice properties. China will try to land the rover on Mars sometime in May.
But first, NASA’s Perseverance Rover’s arrival on Mars on February 18 will be far from a busy month. The car-shaped robot explorer, launched in late July 2020, is equipped with seven scientific instruments to study the geology and climate of Mars.
The rover will attempt to use a similar sky-crane on the red planet, which launched the Curiosity rover to the surface of Mars in 2012. At the time, the nerve-wracking stunt was known as the “Seven Minutes of Terror”.
According to NASA, the persistence mission may lay the foundation for future human exploration of Mars.
In addition to discovering signs of ancient life, the $ 3 billion Perseverance Mission will test innovative technologies on the Red Planet. The rover is carrying a small helicopter designed for experimental test flights in the thin atmosphere of Mars.
If it succeeds, it is an important milestone in powered flight and could usher in a new era of red planet exploration.
“There is no comparison between the surface rovers and the improved capability of flying vehicles,” said Zubrin. “Rovers can travel hundred meters in a day, but a helicopter can do it in a few seconds. Imagine being able to traverse any terrain, go into the valley, descend to the bottom and then exit. It’s just fantastic what Mars can do for exploration. “