You will hear a lot about Mars in the coming weeks this summer. Three missions are being launched towards the red planet, taking advantage of the way Earth and its neighbor get closer every 26 months, allowing for a relatively short journey between the two worlds. If they are successfully launched, the spacecraft will reach Mars early next year.
The first of the three missions, built by the United Arab Emirates, took off on Monday morning from a launch site in Japan (it was late Sunday afternoon in the United States). Transported to the calm sky by a Mitsubishi H-IIA rocket, the spacecraft separated from the rocket about an hour later and began a journey to Mars that will last until February. The trip to the red planet begins a bold entry into interplanetary exploration by a small country that previously had sent only a few small satellites to orbit.
What is U.A.E. sending to Mars and what will you do?
The Emirates Mars Mission, also known as Hope, is an orbiter that will study Mars from above the planet. It will join a fleet of six other spacecraft studying the red planet from space, three operated by NASA, two by the European Space Agency (one shared with Russia) and one by India. Each contains different instruments to help research the Martian atmosphere and surface.
The Hope orbiter is carrying three instruments: an infrared spectrometer, an ultraviolet spectrometer and a camera. From its high orbit – ranging from 20,000 to 30,000 kilometers above the surface – the spacecraft will give planetary scientists their first global view of the Martian climate at all times of the day. During his two-year mission, he will investigate how dust storms and other weather phenomena near the surface of Mars surface accelerate or slow the loss of the planet's atmosphere in space.
How extensive is the UAE's space program?
The Emirates built and launched three Earth observation satellites, gaining experience with the collaboration of a South Korean company. The country also has a nascent human space flight program. Last year, your first astronaut, Hazzaa al-Mansoori, who completed an eight-day stay at the International Space Station, was carried there on board a Russian rocket.
For the Mars mission, the country took an approach similar to previous satellites, working with the University of Colorado's Atmospheric and Space Physics Laboratory, where hope was built before being sent to Dubai for testing.
Emirati engineers worked side by side with their colleagues in Boulder, Colorado, learning and doing what they designed and assembled the spacecraft.
What else is launching on Mars this summer?
Two other missions are going to Mars in the coming weeks.
The next expected launch will be China's Tianwen-1, which may occur between the end of this week and the beginning of August.
The Chinese mission includes an orbiter, a lander and a rover that study the water and ice content of Martian soil, among other research objectives. This will be China's second attempt to reach Mars. His first, Yinghuo-1, failed to escape Earth in 2011, when the Russian rocket carrying it had malfunctions. In the years since that mission, China has completed several successful manned missions in low Earth orbit, and landed a space vehicle on the other side of the moon, the only spacecraft that has ever accomplished this feat.
On July 30, NASA is scheduled to launch Perseverance, a robotic robot this will be the fifth American wheeled vehicle to explore Mars. It will land in a crater called Jezero, looking for signs of ancient and extinct life that could have thrived when the crater was a lake.
At the beginning of its mission, Perseverança will launch a small experimental helicopter, Ingenuity. He will attempt short flights in the thin Martian atmosphere, with the aim of demonstrating that the technology can extend the range of missions beyond the limited range of robotic robots.
A fourth mission, the Russian-European rover Rosalind Franklin, was also released this summer. However, technical obstacles, aggravated by the coronavirus pandemic, could not be overcome in time to reach the launch window. The launch is now scheduled for 2022.