Mars month began in earnest on Tuesday, with the arrival of the United Arab Emirates’ “Hope” spacecraft at the red planet. It is due to be followed in short order by spacecraft from China and the United States over the next 10 days after these missions all launched from Earth last summer.
The UAE spacecraft, built in conjunction with several US-based universities, successfully completed a maneuver to enter Mars’ orbit on Tuesday, firing its six Delta-V thrusters for 27 minutes. This significantly slowed the spacecraft from 121,000km/hour to about 18,000km/hour, allowing it to become captured into a Mars’ orbit.
Some weeks remain while the spacecraft will test out its scientific instruments and then enter into a final “science” orbit. Once there, it will collect data about weather on the red planet for an entire Martian year.
This is the first Mars mission by an Arab nation and has been met with widespread celebration in UAE. A mission to Mars was chosen to inspire a new generation to study science and shift toward a 21st-century economy. It appears to be working.
“Hope reaches Mars at a profound double anniversary: 2021 marks both the 50th anniversary of the Emirates and 50 years since the first man-made object landed on the Red Planet,” said Sarah bint Yousef Al Amiri, chair of the UAE Space Agency, in a statement. “As a young nation, it is a particular point of pride that we are now in a position to make a tangible contribution to humanity’s understanding of Mars. This also marks an important point for the Emirates to continue the drive to diversify its economy utilizing science and technology.”
Two more to go
Now that Hope is safely tucked into orbit around Mars, the focus turns toward China’s ambitious Tianwen-1 mission. The five-ton spacecraft is due to enter Mars’ orbit on Wednesday, around 6:30am EST (11:30 UTC). If successful, the probe will spend a couple of months studying a landing site in the large Utopia Planitia impact basin.
Then, in May, a lander with a small rover will attempt to set down on Mars. This will be a big moment, as only NASA has ever soft-landed a spacecraft on Mars and seen it survive for more than a handful of seconds.
Speaking of NASA, its Perseverance mission will round out the trio of Mars missions this month. This large rover is due to arrive at Mars on February 18 and land shortly thereafter, at approximately 3:55pm EST (20:55 UTC). The spacecraft will land in Jezero Crater and search for signs of life. It will undergo a landing much like the “seven minutes of terror” experienced by the Curiosity rover back in 2012. That mission, of course, is still alive and kicking on Mars.