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In the next two weeks, spacecraft from three countries will fly to Mars at once
06.02.2021 [01:26],
Nikolay Khizhnyak

In the next two weeks, a small space fleet will arrive to Mars, consisting of an orbital probe from the United Arab Emirates, as well as two rovers from China and the United States. The ambition of each of these space missions can hardly be overestimated: for the UAE, this will be the first mission into deep space; for China — the first attempt to land a rover on the surface of the Red Planet; and for the United States — the first attempt to deploy a Martian helicopter.

Image source: The Verge

All three spacecraft were launched to Mars in July 2021 just a few days apart. Such a tight launch schedule is explained by a rather narrow launch window, which opens every two years and is associated with the range of the location of the orbits of Mars and Earth. Each of the states decided not to waste time.

The first to arrive to Mars is the interplanetary orbital station Al-Amal («Hope»), launched on July 20, 2021 as part of the Emirates Mars Mission program using the Japanese H-IIA launch vehicle. The robotic probe, the size of a small car, will enter Martian orbit on February 9 and then spend two years creating a complete picture of the Martian atmosphere. The apparatus is faced with the tasks of studying how the weather changes during the day and throughout the year in various geographic regions of Mars, as well as the tasks of studying meteorological events in the lower layers of the planet’s atmosphere.

For the UAE, this mission is very important. If successful, it will put the country on a par with those few states that have conducted similar space research. The development of the device «Nadezhda» took six years. It was attended by about 450 specialists from the Mohammed Ibn Rashid Space Center, the American Laboratory of Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado, Arizona State University and the University of California at Berkeley. Program budget — $ 200 million.

The first image of Mars with the Tianwen 1 camera from a distance of 2.2 million km from the planet, taken on February 5, 2021

Following «Nadezhda», «Questions to Heaven» will appear the next day. This is the Chinese name for the Tianwen-1 mission launched on July 22, 2021 by the Changzheng-5 launch vehicle. On February 10, a Chinese interplanetary station will enter Mars orbit, consisting of an orbital and descent vehicle, the payload of which is a rover. The main task of the five-ton orbiter will be a detailed study of the Martian plain of Utopia, under the surface of which there are deposits of water ice.

Tianwen 1 rover model

Three months after arriving at the Red Planet, the Tianwen-1 orbiter will land a descent module with a rover on its surface. On board the latter is a georadar for research to a depth of 100 m below the surface of Mars, as well as a number of scientific instruments and cameras for studying the Martian soil and the planet’s magnetic field. Scientists speculate water ice deposits may contain signs of microbial life.

On Friday, February 18, if all goes well, the Tianwen 1 rover will be accompanied by NASA’s Perseverance rover. He will land about 2600 km from the Chinese craft, in the Jezero crater. The area is believed to be the delta of an ancient Martian river, which may contain indications of past Martian life. For NASA, this Mars mission will be the ninth in a row. Program budget — $ 2.4 billion.

Mars rover «Persistence» in the NASA assembly laboratory

The rover is equipped with seven scientific instruments, including a UV laser to scan organic compounds and an X-ray spectrometer to analyze the chemical composition of Martian soil. In addition, the rover has several cameras and two microphones for monitoring the status of the rover itself, as well as listening to the windy atmosphere of the planet. Among the tasks of «Perseverance» is the collection of samples of Martian soil and their storage. As part of one of the subsequent missions to Mars, which will be conducted by NASA in conjunction with the European Space Agency, these samples are planned to be collected and delivered to Earth for further study. The mission of the rover «Perseverance» is designed for at least two years.

Martian reconnaissance helicopter «Ingenuity»

A solar-powered Martian reconnaissance helicopter was developed for joint use with the rover. He was named Ingenuity («Ingenuity»). The drone weighing 1.8 kg was designed for testing and demonstrating the technology of flights on Mars, as well as for the purpose of reconnaissance of the terrain for further movements of the «Perseverance» rover. The helicopter has no scientific instruments other than cameras.

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