February is seeing three spacecraft arriving at Mars that have been en route since July 2020.
First up is Misabar Al’Amal from the United Arab Emirates. Also called the Hope Probe, it entered Mars’ gravitational sphere at 02:36 UTC on February 5th. Orbital insertion took place on February 9th, with a confirmation being received around 15:40 UTC. The maneuver involved a braking burn of around 27 minutes, which consumed roughly 400 kilograms of fuel.
Hope’s mission is to observe the Martian atmosphere, looking at how energy moves through all parts of the atmosphere at all times of the day and throughout the Martian year. It will look at things such as dust in the atmosphere, which plays a significant role in the temperature on Mars.
Hope will orbit Mars in a near-equatorial orbit between 22,000 and 44,000 kilometers.
The mission is being carried out by the Emiratis in collaboration with several American institutions who will be mentoring them, including the University of Colorado at Boulder; Arizona State University; and the University of California, Berkeley.
The next traveler arriving at Mars is China’s Tianwen-1, which entered Mars orbit at about 12:01 UTC earlier today, February 10th.
Tianwen, which translates to “Questions to Heaven”, was launched from the Wenchang Spaceport on Hainan Island last summer on July 23rd. Its mission has two major goals, the first of which is to deliver a six-wheeled rover to a flat plain within the Utopia impact basin just north of Mars’ equator. The rover will study the geology of the region at and just below the surface. The other major goal is to study the planet from orbit with seven remote sensing instruments.
The mission scientists are hoping to get at least 90 sols — that’s 90 Martian days — of service out of the robot, which looks similar to NASA’s Spirit and Opportunity vehicles.
The last spacecraft en route to Mars is NASA’s Perseverance, which was also launched on July 30th last summer. It will land in Jezero Crater next week on February 18th. Unlike Tianwen-1 which we just discussed, it will not stop in Martian orbit first. It will directly enter the Martian atmosphere from its interplanetary trajectory, just like Curiosity and the Mars Exploration Rovers.
Perseverance’s main mission is to seek signs of ancient life and collect samples of rock and regolith (broken rock and soil) for a possible return to Earth, but it’s probably safe to say that the most exciting part of the mission is the technology demonstration payload known as Ingenuity.
NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter is the first aircraft to be sent to another planet to attempt powered, controlled flight. If its experimental flight test program succeeds, the data returned could benefit future explorations of the Red Planet – including those by astronauts – by adding the aerial dimension, which is not available today.
We’ll have more information about Perseverance and Ingenuity after they’re safely on the surface of Mars in about a week’s time. Good luck and safe travels to all the new arrivals at Mars from the team here at CosmoQuest!
BBC article (Hope)
Spaceflight Now article
BBC article (Tianwen-1)