The United Arab Emirates will kick off by launching their Marsorbiter Hope Probe in two days.

It is probably then the turn of the Chinese, who with their Huoxing-1 mission in one fell swoop send a Marslander, robber and orbiter to the red planet. NASA is the bottom line and will chase Mars rover Perseverance into the air sometime around July 30.

The moment
It is no coincidence, of course, that three space agencies choose to send a spacecraft to Mars – independently of each other – over a three-week period. It has everything to do with the position of Mars with respect to Earth. Mars is a little further away from the sun and has an almost twice longer orbital period than our planet. It means that the distance between Earth and Mars varies: one moment the Earth moves away from Mars, the next it approaches. Once every two years, the distance between the two celestial bodies is the smallest and is the ideal time to undertake a mission to Mars. After all, spacecraft can reach the red planet relatively quickly – and with relatively little fuel.

And that ideal launch moment is therefore coming this summer. The Arabs, Chinese and Americans make good use of this. The Europeans and Russians also intended to do so and originally also wanted to send their Mars rover Rosalind Franklin on the road this summer. But partly due to the coronavirus, ESA and Roscosmos did not get their rover ready in time . They are now forced to launch the rover only in 2022.

Hope Probe
The Arabs don’t have to wait that long. In just over two days, they will launch their Mars Probe Hope Probe. It is the first ever interplanetary mission undertaken by the United Arab Emirates. The Hope Probe has to orbit the red planet and investigate the atmosphere and climate of Mars. But first, of course, the probe must arrive at Mars. The journey is expected to take approximately seven months and the Hope Probe will be able to set up orbit Mars in February 2021. The mission should last approximately one Martian year, or nearly two Earth years.

The route of the Hope Probe. Image: UAE Space Agency.

Huoxing-1
The Chinese are expected to send their Huoxing-1 mission on their way next week. It is the second Mars mission that the Chinese set up. The first failed; Marsorbiter Yinghuo-1, launched in 2011, never reached Mars, but eventually fell back to Earth and burned in the atmosphere. Hopefully Huoxing-1 has a brighter future. The mission is more extensive anyway: it consists of a Marsor biter, lander and robber. The trio should help determine if there has ever been life on Mars or if there may still be life to be found.

Perseverance
NASA’s Mars Rover Perseverance has the same goal. The launch was actually scheduled for late this week, but has been delayed by some setbacks. It can now be launched on July 30 at the earliest. If for some reason that fails, NASA has until August 15 to make a new attempt. After that, the chances are gone and we have to wait until 2022. But the US space agency is optimistic and expects to launch on or shortly after July 30, after which Perseverance will also set foot on Mars in February 2021. Once there, the rover in the Jezero Crater will investigate the Martian climate and actively search for traces of microbes that may have lived on Mars in a gray past. NASA also plans to collect several Mars monsters during the mission that can be picked up and brought to Earth during future Mars missions. Time will also be made available for testing technologies that will come in handy during manned missions to the Moon or Mars itself. For example, a technology is being tested that aims to convert CO2 – which is abundant in the Martian atmosphere – into oxygen. In addition, Perseverance has a special first: the rover will park the very first Marsh helicopter on the red planet in the spring of 2021, after which it will have to be demonstrated whether it can also remain in the air on Mars. Time will also be made available for testing technologies that will come in handy during manned missions to the Moon or Mars itself. For example, a technology is being tested that aims to convert CO2 – which is abundant in the Martian atmosphere – into oxygen. In addition, Perseverance has a special first: the rover will park the very first Marsh helicopter on the red planet in the spring of 2021, after which it will have to be demonstrated whether it can also remain in the air on Mars. Time will also be made available for testing technologies that will come in handy during manned missions to the Moon or Mars itself. For example, a technology is being tested that aims to convert CO2 – which is abundant in the Martian atmosphere – into oxygen. In addition, Perseverance has a special first: the rover will park the very first Marsh helicopter on the red planet in the spring of 2021, after which it will have to be demonstrated whether it can also remain in the air on Mars.

But before that, the rovers, orbiters and landers must first travel nearly 500 million kilometers to arrive at the red planet. And then perhaps the most exciting part of any mission follows: orbiters have to settle in orbit around Mars. And robbers and landers must land safely on the red planet. The latter is very difficult. There are only a few minutes between when a spacecraft enters the thin atmosphere of Mars and lands on the red planet. And in those minutes, the spacecraft must decelerate enormously to prevent it from crashing onto the surface of Mars. Although NASA has already parked several rovers on Mars, it remains with fear and trembling at this’ seven minutes of terror‘ look. And that will be no different for the Chinese. Because the stakes are high; the countries have invested heavily in the Mars missions and China certainly has something to prove. At the same time, the proceeds of a successful Mars mission are of course priceless. Because one of these missions can easily find the first traces of life on Mars.

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