“It’s a very small target. It’s equivalent to an archer hitting a two-millimeter target, one kilometer away. So this is not for the faint of heart.”
— Pete Withnell, Ph.D., Manager of the U.A.E. Mars mission and Program Manager, of the University of Colorado’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP), Louisville, Colorado.
July 21, 2020 Japan’s Tanegashima Space Center – At 6:58 AM on Sunday, July 19, 2020, the United Arab Emirates launched its first interplanetary spacecraft headed for Mars from the Tanegashima Space Center on the coast of Tanegashima, Japan. Seven months from now, it will face the challenge of landing safely on the red planet. This is the first successful launch of three different July 2020 Mars missions scheduled for blast offs to the red planet. The U.A.E. is first, followed by the Chinese, followed by the American Perseverance rover.
United Arab Emirates
In a month from now, the U.A.E. Hope spacecraft will ignite a long burn in its onboard thrusters to correct its path for a specific landing site on Mars. The Manager of the U. A. E. Mars mission is Pete Withnell, Ph.D., Program Manager at the Unniversity of Colorado’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics in Louisville, Colorado.
Before the launch in a press phone call, aerospace engineer Withnell emphasized the challenges ahead for the Hope spacecraft. “It’s a very small target. It’s equivalent to an archer hitting a two-millimeter target, one kilometer away. So this is not for the faint of heart.”
Hope’s biggest test will be in February 2021, when it’s close to Mars and must accurately do a 30-minute burn of its thrusters to insert itself into orbit around Mars. If successful, Hope will go from more than 75,000 miles an hour (121,000 km an hour) down to about 11,000 miles an hour (18,000 km an hour). No one on Earth can help Hope at that crucial burn because the communication time between Mars and Earth is too long to make corrections.
Next up on or about July 23, 2020, China plans to launch its first Martian rover on a space rocket called Tianwen-1. This will be the first time that two different nations will have two active rovers on Mars at the same time. But China has not yet announced which landing site its headed for.
China’s chief mission manager Zhang Rongqiao said a year ago, “Our goal is to explore and gather as much scientific data as possible.” One fact is known: China’s Tianwen-1 rover will have ground-penetrating radar (GPR) just like America’s Perseverance rover. That means both competitive nations will be able to map subsurface features on the red planet in much greater clarity than orbiting radars have been able to do.
And like the NASA and European Space Agency goals to start returning physical samples from Mars to Earth before or by 2030, China is also planning to start returning samples from Mars by 2030.
The U.S.A. plans to launch for Mars on July 30th. Aboard will be NASA’s new Perseverance Rover ready to launch on a mission dedicated to searching for evidence of life on Mars and looking below ground with its powerful ground-penetrating radar. Perseverance will look for fossiles from the distant past and maybe find microbes living on Mars now?
Whatever Perseverance finds, the goal is to have physical samples returned to Earth after Elon Musk’s Starship program begins landing on Mars around 2026. Musk says he will send relays of Starships with people going and coming along with samples and artifacts that are found in this decade of so many human missions on Mars.
Emirates Mars Mission: https://www.mbrsc.ae/emirates-mars-mission
American Mars 2020 Mission Perseverance Rover: https://mars.nasa.gov/mars2020/
“China’s daring Tianwen-1 Mars Mission: Everything we know,” C-Net.com, July 20, 2020: https://www.cnet.com/news/chinas-daring-tianwen-1-mars-mission-everything-we-know/
AAAS Science, “Mars mission would put China among space leaders,” June 25, 2020: https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/06/mars-mission-would-put-china-among-space-leaders
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