The next few days are going to be busy in Martian space.
Firstly, The Perseverance rover and Ingenuity helicopter are closing in on Mars fast as the mission heads for a landing on February 18th, which NASA will be broadcasting. The mission was scheduled to coincide with the ideal travel distance, so it is no wonder there are a few other missions happening at the same time. The United Arab Emirates' Hope and the Chinese Tianwen 1 missions. Hope successfully entered orbit around Mars on February 9th, and Tianwen 1 did the same one day later.
Perseverance is planning a landing in Jezero Crater, which scientists think was once flooded with water some 3.5 billion years ago. Using the rover scientists will be able to study the minerals deposits once carried along by the river and into the crater. Incredibly NASA are looking not just for water but signs of previous life on Mars. By looking at the rock scientists will be able to understand their formation and build an understanding of conditions that may have led to sustainment of life in one form or another.
To accomplish this, Perseverance has seven scientific instruments and 23 cameras onboard, some used for manoeuvring and navigation while seven are part of instrument packages. The instruments enable analysing the weather, radar to penetrate the surface, and spectrometers to analyse rock samples as well as the collection of samples.
And for the first time ever a flying machine will operate in an alien atmosphere. Ingenuity, a technology-demonstrating helicopter, will explore the surrounding area.
But before the American mission arrives, we have already seen the arrival of China’s Tianwen
1 (meaning ‘Questions to the Heavens’) around the Red Planet. Assisted by the European Space Agency, China is tracking Tianwen 1, the sixth mission to Mars by a national space agency.
Ahead of the Chinese the United Arab Emirates nipped in, just the day before on the 9th February, with their Hope orbiter to claim fifth place.
Tianwen 1 is in elliptical orbit inclined 10° relative to the Martian equator at present before bringing the spacecraft to a periapsis (closest approach) of 265 km above the Martian surface when it will be positioned to release its lander and rover. The target is a landing site is in Utopia Planitia, in the region where NASA’s Viking 2 mission landed way back in the 70’s.
The Chinese solar-powered rover is expected to last 90 days, while the orbiter should operate for one Martian year, equivalent to almost two Earth years.
Tianwen 1 will map water ice across the Martian surface and study the planet's atmosphere and magnetic environment. Sounding radar will probe the surface on a large scale, while surface- penetrating radar on the rover will take measurement at the landing site, possibly reaching 300+ feet below the surface.
Finally, and like London buses (wait a long time and then 3 come along at the same time) we have the excitement of UAE’s Hope orbiter. A much more modest event but a great achievement nonetheless, not least in the performance of a team averaging 27 years old, of which one third are women. Launched from Tanegashima Space Center in Japan last year, perhaps the Japanese can take comfort for an assist after the sad loss of their own Nozomi mission in 2003. While in transit NASA’s worldwide Deep Space Network assisted with tracking Hope.
Once the spacecraft is set in its unique high-altitude orbit it will be able to observe the entire disc and provide a global picture of the Martian climate.
Hope is set for a two-year nominal science mission, possibly extending out to 2025. The spacecraft carries an imaging spectrograph (EMUS) for atmospheric study, an Infrared Spectrometer (EMIRS) to measure temperature, dust, ozone, and water ice and vapor in Mars's lower atmosphere, and the Emirates eXploration Imager (EXI) a multi-band camera
A fourth mission, a joint effort between the European Space Agency and Russia's Roscosmos agency to fly the ExoMars Rosalind Franklin rover, has been put back to 2022 but in any case, Mars is looking busier than it has been for aeons.
So, with such exciting times in space, it seems appropriate that we should be planning to embark on our own space adventure. Come and join us. Edict.