Mars’s answer to the Grand Canyon probed by NASA

By Ryan Morrison 

A trio of spaceships from Earth are on their way to Mars in search of life and to better understand the atmosphere and environment of the Red Planet.

Orbiter missions from the United Arab Emirates and China, as well as rovers from the Chinese and American space agencies are due to arrive by the middle of February. 

Each of the vessels are currently hurtling through space at thousands of miles per hour, gathering data about the space between the two worlds to send back home.

Perseverance: NASA’s latest Mars rover 

NASA’s Perseverance rover follows in a long line of US rovers that have been sent to explore the Red Planet, including the currently-operational Curiosity rover, which has sent many stunning images back to Earth.

As well as a host of scientific instruments, the NASA spaceship is ‘festooned’ with an array of ‘hidden gems’ including chips carrying the names of 10.9 million people. 

The Mars 2020 mission is part of a larger programme that includes missions to the Moon as a way to prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet. 

Charged with returning astronauts to the Moon by 2024, NASA will establish a sustained human presence on and around the Moon by 2028 through NASA’s Artemis lunar exploration plans.  

Hope: Emirates Mars Mission

This is the first interplanetary mission by an Arab nation, and it has now completed its final major trajectory correction before inserting itself into Mars’ orbit in February. 

Known as Mars Hope, the probe’s arrival and Mars Orbit Insertion (MOI) on February 9 will mean the United Arab Emirates becomes the fifth nation to reach the planet. 

The trajectory during the cruise has been accurate enough that they have been able to plan new scientific observations for the final approach to Mars. 

Project Director Omran Sharaf said they will use the on-board spectrograph to make early observations of Mars’ outer hydrogen halo and add data to interplanetary hydrogen modelling. 

Tianwen-1: China’s first Mars rover 

There is far less publicly-available information about the Chinese Tianwen-1 mission, launched by the China National Space Administration (CNSA) on July 23, 2020.

It is due to reach the Red Planet at some point in February and includes an orbiter, a lander and a rover that will look for ancient signs of life on Mars.

CNSA has confirmed that the lander will touch down inside the huge impact basin Utopia Planitia, to the south of NASA’s Viking 2 lander site and northwest of the Mars InSight lander that touched down in November 2018. 

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