It’s going to be a busy month for Mars enthusiasts, with not one, not two, but three separate missions all due to arrive at the red planet in February. The first to arrive will be the UAE’s Hope mission, which is set to enter Mars orbit on Tuesday, February 9, to collect data on atmospheric conditions on the planet.
If the arrival is successful, the UAE will be just the fifth nation to successfully send a mission to Mars, along with the U.S., India, Russia, and the European Space Agency. That list is expected to be joined by a sixth nation, China, this month as well with its Tianwen-1 mission. Later in the month, NASA’s Perseverance rover will follow.
Hope is also the first interplanetary mission by an Arab nation. But missions to Mars are extremely challenging, with around half of all missions there failing. So there’s a big challenge ahead of Hope to get it safely into orbit.
“This is a heavily rehearsed, designed, tested maneuver,” said Sarah Al Amiri, UAE minister of state for advanced technology and chairperson of the UAE Space Agency, during a webinar reported by Space News. “But we have never used our thrusters for 27 minutes continuously. We’re going to burn half of our fuel.” She described her mix of emotions as the mission approaches the planet as “comfortable and uncomfortable, worried and not worried.”
To get into orbit around Mars, the spacecraft must slam on its brakes by firing its engines in reverse to reduce its speed from 75,000 miles per hour to around 11,000 mph. It is this maneuver that will eat through a considerable quantity of fuel, and hopefully allow the craft to be captured by Mars’s gravity and enter orbit.
Once in orbit, Hope will observe the Martian atmosphere, in particular looking at the upper and lower atmosphere and how the two interact across the seasons. Previous missions studying the atmosphere have generally only looked in a shorter time frame, so this should be an opportunity to gather data about how the atmosphere changes year-round.
It will also investigate atmospheric loss — the process through which Mars is losing its atmosphere.
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