Mars is in the news again! Last year we reported on the launch of NASA’s Mars 2020 mission. The spacecraft has been speeding its way through interplanetery space ever since, and is due for landing next week! Soon after, we’ll see the first data coming in from the Perseverance rover, and the testing of the Ingenuity helicopter. You can track the mission at the Mars 2020 website.
Meanwhile, though, we have big Mars news this week! Today the UAE’s first mission to Mars, the Hope orbiter, reached the planet and entered orbit. It will soon begin sending back data on its observations of the Martian atmosphere. You can get all the details at the Emirates Mars Mission website.
Tomorrow, China’s Tianwen-1 spacecraft will enter Mars orbit. In addition to orbital sensors, Tianwen-1 carries a lander and rover with cameras and soil-sampling sensors. Its mission includes improved mapping and technology demonstration in preparation for a potential future sample-return mission. Meanwhile, the spacecraft has sent back its first images of the planet while making its approach; check it out at Science Alert.
All three Mars missions launched last July. The mechanics of the relative orbits of Earth and Mars mean that some times allow spacecraft to move between the two planets most efficiently, creating ideal launch windows for sending such probes. This is essentially a complex application of very familiar rules: Newton's laws of motion and gravitation! You can try this out at home: check out NASA's Educator Guide: Let's Go to Mars!
- NASA Mars 2020 page
- Emirates Mars Mission page
- CNET: Welcome to Mars
- Educator Guide: Transfer Orbits