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Arrival on Mars: NASA, China and the UAE will reach the red planet this month



On the way to Mars.

NASA / JPL-Caltech

July 2020 was a huge month for Mars. Taking advantage of its near position in orbit, three missions took off from Earth for a seven-month journey to the red planet. Now those spacecraft – NASA’s Perseverance rover, the Tianwen-1 of the Chinese space agency and the hope of the United Arab Emirates – arrive at their destination. They are ready to reveal the secrets our heavenly neighbor hides in its atmosphere and arid plains, and can even reveal remnants of ancient life on the Earth’s surface.

While all three spacecraft will enter orbit around Mars this month, NASA’s Persistence (or “Percy”) will take center stage. It will be the only mission to land on the surface, with an expected arrival date of February 18. Perseverance builds on an impressive history of interplanetary exploration, with its sibling Curiosity emerging for nine years on Mars breathtaking photos and a little puzzling data.

That doesn’t take away from Hope, or Al Amal, and Tianwen-1 in China. Both spacecraft are expected to perform Mars Orbital Insertion (MOI) maneuvers within a day of each other on February 9 and 10, respectively. Hope will remain in orbit and analyze the atmosphere of Mars, but Tianwen-1 will try something only achieved by two other countries: landing on an unfriendly surface of Mars. China is expected to release the lander and rover duo of Tianwen-1 sometime in May.

Here’s a summary of the journey to Mars and what to expect this month.

First place

Every 26 months, the orbits of Earth and Mars are arranged so that space agencies can take advantage of something known as a Hohmann transfer orbit.

“We do this kind of movement to use as little fuel as possible,” said James O’Donoghue, a planetary scientist with the Japanese space agency JAXA. told CNET last year. “It’s like passing a football to an attacker, you have to aim where they will be.”

By July 2020 everything was perfectly aligned and the three missions were gone. Some quick facts:

The rhythm of the launches means that Hope will be the first to reach Mars in February. It is expected to perform its moment of inertia on February 9, from 75,000 miles per hour to just 11,200. At approximately 7:42 a.m. PT, the probe will arrive “on” Mars the length of the bus and begin the transition into the science phase of the mission. The maneuver is completely autonomous, as communication isn’t as fast as it does here on Earth – the interplanetary phone call is delayed by more than 13 minutes, so Hope will fly independently from a series of pre-delivered instructions.

The arrival of Tianwen-1 is a bit more mysterious. The Chinese space agency typically doesn’t reveal much information about its activities, even for a potentially historic mission like this one. It will be the second vessel to enter orbit on February 10, according to Chinese news service CCTV.

Three spacecraft, seven months

While most of the science will be conducted when the spacecraft reaches Mars, scientists and engineers have tested their spacecraft’s capabilities during the cruise phase of the mission. The journey itself is long – about 300 million miles (~ 480 million kilometers) covered and each agency has the chance to improve the craft’s trajectory for a perfect arrival. What else has happened?

And last but not least

NASA’s Perseverance rover will land on February 18, 2021. While NASA has a good track record of landing on the red planet for the past several decades, there are no guarantees – Mars is tough.

“Success is never guaranteed,” said Allan Chen, technical leader in the Entry, Descent and Landing phase of the mission, at a NASA press conference Jan. 27. and most complicated rover we’ve ever built in the most dangerous spot we’ve ever tried to land. ”

The space agency expects to have the best landing images ever, with an array of cameras and a microphone ready to capture the arrival, descent and landing stages. It’s the first time we’ve been able to do that listen to the sounds of a Mars landing, providing a completely new sensory experience for avid Mars fans. Unfortunately, there is no way we can look life, as such, but NASA will report on the launch. We have a comprehensive guide to the landing day and what to expect.

How to watch NASA’s Perseverance land on Mars

If you want to see the touchdown from the Perseverance rover on February 18, we’ve got you covered and you can access the stream here. And if you’re interested in all the other great celestial events and rocket launches, we recommend syncing your calendar to CNET’s space calendar – you’ll never miss a launch again.


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