In the next two weeks, a small space fleet will arrive at 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 to 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.
All three spacecraft were launched to Mars in July 2020, just a few days apart. Such a tight launch schedule is due to the rather narrow launch window, which opens every two years and is associated with the range of the orbits of Mars and Earth. Each of the states decided not to waste time.
The first to arrive to Mars is the Al-Amal (Nadezhda) interplanetary orbital station, launched on July 20, 2020 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 different geographic regions of Mars, as well as the tasks of studying meteorological events in the lower layers of the planet’s atmosphere.
This mission is very important for the UAE. If successful, it will put the country on a par with those few states that have conducted similar space research. The development of the Nadezhda apparatus 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. The program budget is $ 200 million.
Following “Hope” the next day, “Questions to Heaven” will appear. This is the Chinese name for the Tianwen-1 mission launched on July 22, 2020 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.
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 that 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 mission will be the ninth in a row. The program budget is $ 2.4 billion.
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 a follow-up mission 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 Perseverance rover is designed for at least two years.
A solar-powered Martian reconnaissance helicopter was developed for 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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