Going to Mars is not trivial, as both planets revolve around the Sun and are therefore in constant motion with each other. Earth and Mars are at the closest distance from each other every 26 months, and that is when Earths try to send missions to Mars.
Every two years since the 1960s, different space agencies have sent missions to Mars. Between 1976 and 1992, many launch windows remained unused. Sometimes, there have been several missions in a launch window.
But never in history have three space agencies headed to Mars in a single launch window. And never in history have so many space agencies simultaneously operated a mission to Mars or Mars orbit. There are currently 10 spacecraft from five different spacecraft: the United States, the European Union, India, China, and the United Arab Emirates, orbiting or on the ground of Mars. Two more rovers – NASA’s perseverance and that of China Tianwen-1 – are destined to land on Mars on February 18 and May 2021 respectively.
NASA has a lander (Mars Insight), a rover (Curiosity) and three orbiters (Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Mars Odyssey, MAVEN); India has an orbiter (Mangalyaan-1); the EU has 2 orbiters (Mars Express and ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter); and China and the United Arab Emirates will each have an orbiter (Hope and Tianwen-1 respectively).
The mission flotilla represents the spread of planetary exploration in general and Mars exploration in particular. This is due to a reduction in launch costs and the cheaper availability of the technology needed for space exploration.
Dr. Amitabha Ghosh is a NASA planetary scientist based in Washington DC. He has worked for various NASA missions to Mars, starting with the Mars Pathfinder mission in 1997. He chaired the scientific operations task force on the Mars Exploration Rover mission, and was tasked with directing the tactical operations of Mars. Rover on Mars for over 10 years. He helped analyze the first rock on Mars, which by the way was the first rock analyzed from another planet.
The United Arab Emirates Hope Mission
Two of the three missions launched to Mars last July are already operational. The United Arab Emirates, a small but rich country of less than 10 million people, dazzled the world by becoming the fifth national space agency (after the US, EU, Russia and India) to reach Mars. when the Hope Orbiter underwent orbital insertion on 9 February. The United Arab Emirates defeated China in the race for Mars, albeit for a day.
The UAE mission will study the Martian atmosphere and try to address the billion-dollar question of how and why Mars lost its atmosphere. The loss of the atmosphere caused the loss of surface water and possibly of the hospital environment for life.
The Chinese experiment
The Chinese National Space Agency arrived on Mars with lessons learned from a successful series of Chang’e missions to the moon. It should be noted that the Chang’e 4 rover was able to survive more than 25 lunar nights (each night extends up to 14 Earth days) – this is a remarkable technical feat, as temperatures can drop to -170 degrees C. the mission was able to successfully bring rock samples to Earth in December 2020.
Tianwen-1, the first mission to Mars from China, successfully underwent orbital insertion on February 10th. Tianwen-1 carries an orbiter, a lander and a rover. China’s approach to landing a rover is a little different. Unlike NASA rovers, Tianwen-1 will orbit Mars for a few months before attempting to land in May this year.
The probe has a set of tools to address a number of scientific issues. Interestingly, it has a radar instrument that penetrates the ground to search for water beneath the Martian surface. The rover plans to land in Utopia Planitia, a site with possible ancient groundwater deposits.
This week, Perseverance
The most sophisticated mission from an engineering standpoint, NASA’s Perseverance Rover, is on its way to Mars, and will land on Thursday in Jezero Crater, which was probably full of water in the past. The touchdown is scheduled at approximately 3.55 pm EST (2.25 am Friday, India time).
Perseverance is the fourth generation of NASA Mars Rover, starting with Sojourner of the Mars Pathfinder Mission in 1997, followed by Spirit and Opportunity of the Mars Exploration Rover Mission in 2004 and Curiosity of the Mars Science Laboratory in 2012.
The goal is to look for biosignatures in the bed of the dried-up lake in Jezero Crater. The idea is that early life on Mars may resemble life on Earth, like stromatolites. If that were the case, perseverance would find fossils or some biosignatures – life suggestions – in chemical measurements or morphological observations.
In addition, Perseverance will produce oxygen on the Martian surface for the first time, using atmospheric CO2 from the Martian atmosphere. Perseverance will store rock samples that will be returned to Earth by a later European Space Agency / NASA mission
Musk Starship Company
The most spectacular preparation to revolutionize Mars exploration is taking place away from the spotlight, in a sleepy coastal city in East Texas. This is the only effort of the mix that is not financially underwritten by government money. SpaceX, a U.S.-based private company promoted by Elon Musk and backed by select investors, aims to start a commercial service to transport passengers to Mars in the long run. Boca Chica, a name that apparently no one had heard a few years ago, is now the site of Starship’s development, which is arguably the best shot for landing humans on Mars.
A human mission to Mars has been the holy grail of space exploration. Since Neil Armstrong landed on the moon 50 years later, man has not been able to proceed to the following logical destination: Mars. The main reason is the huge price of a human mission to Mars. Compared to the Moon, which is only about three days away, Mars is seven months away. Carrying humans, in terms of engineering, translates into maintaining a temperature-controlled pressure module. It also involves transporting the supplies needed by astronauts, including water and oxygen, for an approximate 18-month journey.
In addition, human missions, unlike robotic spacecraft missions, must be returned to Earth, which in terms of engineering translates into transporting a huge amount of fuel from Earth, in order to launch se from Mars for the return journey. The complexity of engineering and the increase in mass required for a human mission to Mars, compared to the Moon, puts costs at between $ 250 billion and $ 1 trillion. Starship promises to reduce mission costs by> 95% to 99% by using multiple innovations such as refueling the spacecraft into orbit and making rocket fuel on Mars with materials found on Mars (and, therefore, fuel for the return journey). it would not need to be transported from Earth).
A decade of missions to Mars
As the decade begins, there are several missions on the drawing board: most notably, the ESA ExoMars rover’s mission to return rock samples from Mars, the ISRO plans for Mangalyaan-2, and the plans for the Chinese Space Agency for Tianwen-2 that will return rock samples from Mars.
In addition, there are likely to be several flights from the SpaceX spacecraft, first with cargo and finally with astronauts. In human history, 2020 will be remembered by the Covid-19 pandemic, but the 2020s may be the decade of a wave of spacecraft missions to Mars, which will end the first human steps on Martian soil.