Three Mars Missions
On the 23rd of July, 2020, at exactly 12:41 pm, the Tianwen-1 spacecraft lifted off the Wenchang Satellite Launch Centre in Hainan, China, on board a March 5 rocket.
On the 10th of February, 2021, the spacecraft successfully moved into the Red planet’s orbit. This is the first step in the three-step mission of Tianwen-1 whose mission is to orbit, land and deploy a rover on Mars.
The spacecraft initiated a 15-minute burn of thrusters which slowed it down just enough to be pulled into the planet’s gravity.
Tianwen-1 is expected to remain in orbit until May or June when it will then attempt to release the 240-kilogram rover on Mars’ surface, specifically in the northern hemisphere which is known as Utopia Planitia.
The rover is expected to embark on a 90-day mission, studying the soil, searching for any sign of water and primordial life on the planet.
The Journey to Mars
After its launch last year, the unmanned spacecraft traveled towards the red planet, covering approximately 465 million kilometers in about 200 days.
On the 5th of February, the China National Space administration shared a black and white image of the planet taken by the probe which was 2.2 million kilometers from Mars.
On the 9th of February, Tianwen-1 was 1.1 million kilometers away from the designated planet.
“Tianwen-1 is going to orbit, land, and release a rover all on the very first try, and coordinate observations with an orbiter.” This was the assurance given by the scientists working on the mission in the Nature Astronomy last year.
If all goes as planned, the second phase of this mission will kick in a few months from now and if Tianwen-1 pulls all three phases successfully, China will be the first country to orbit, land and deploy a rover on its debut independent trip to Mars and the sixth body to get its probe to Mars, a fit that has been achieved by the United States, the Soviet Union, the European Space Agency, India and the United Arab Emirates.
Tianwen-1 is however not the only spacecraft that has been on course to Mars.
UAE’s Hope mission which arrived on the planet on the 9th of February will be studying its weather.
Launched from a Japanese H-IIA rocket on the 19th of July, 2020, Hope has spent seven months traveling towards Mars.
Just like Tianwen-1, the spacecraft burnt its thrusters as it approached the planet’s orbit. This took close to 30 minutes but it succeeded in slowing down from 121,000kilometers per hour to 18,000 kilometers per hour.
Hope is scheduled to span a full Martian year which is 687 Earth days.
In 2009, the UAE launched its first Earth-orbiting satellite, DubaiSat 1 in its entry to the space sector, now a little over a decade later, the country’s spacecraft has entered the red planet’s orbit.
“This has been a remarkable journey of humanity,” UAE Space Agency chairperson Sarah Al Amiri said during preparations for the orbital insertion maneuver.
The Perseverance Rover
This car-sized space vehicle is the most sophisticated Mars rover ever built.
The perseverance rover was launched by NASA on the 30th of July, 2020. It is fully kitted with microphones, cameras, drills and lasers and its mission is to bring the first Martian rock samples back to Earth for analysis on the evidence of ancient life.
NASA released a video on the 22nd of February as it began its entry, descent and landing (EDL) on Mars on the 18th of February.
An audio recording of sounds from the planet was also released.
According to acting NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk. “Perseverance is just getting started, and already has provided some of the most iconic visuals in space exploration history. It reinforces the remarkable level of engineering and precision that is required to build and fly a vehicle to the Red Planet.”
Tainwen-1, Hope and the Perseverance rover were all launched last summer. In this window, the distance between Mars and Earth was shortest in two years and this helped to shorten the journey of these probes to seven months.
While the UAE’s Hope spacecraft is bound for a different mission. China and NASA’s rover are unarguably on a race for the first rover to retrieve the first Martian rock sample.
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News Source: South China Morning Post