Fortunately, there are no little green men on the Red Planet: they’ll have nothing to worry about this week when they’ve seen not one, not two, but three ships coming straight from Earth. A hostile invasion? I hope not. Terrans descends peacefully, driven by the noblest of scientific intentions to understand everything about Mars’ atmosphere, climate, geology, and past … and why not put some flags in the process.
The first country to cross the finish line of this extraordinary convoy to Mars is also the newest country to reach the space exploration sector: It is the United Arab Emirates, which launched a space mission in record time to bring a probe, dubbed Hope into the orbit of Mars. The Emirati machine will arrive at its destination on Tuesday 9 February, and will be joined the next day by its Chinese colleague Tianwen-1. This robot has more advanced ambitions: Tianwen wants to land on Mars to launch a small spacecraft. And finally, next Thursday we will wait for the arrival of the elders, masters of the game: the Americans and their perseverance, their great rover.
The near-perfect synchronization of this alien family is not a coincidence: to travel to the Red Planet while spending the least amount of fuel possible, it is necessary to adapt to the revolution of both Mars and Earth around the Sun, with their position, distance and speed. Every 26 months or so, it coordinates to allow fast and economical travel from Earth to Mars. “It’s like a soccer pass You have to target where your teammate will be. Seconds later, James O’Donogo, a planetary scientist at the Japan Space Agency, compares. From Earth, we aim to where Mars will fall after seven months. The right shot window lasts a few weeks. Thus, all countries preparing for the Mars mission end up leaving at the same time, arriving in the same week.
But the common denominators end there. From their concept to their scientific goals, including their political mission and chances of success, the three space missions are distinguished above all by their diversity. panorama.
United Arab Emirates: “Hope” for a new space power
Her name Al-Amal In Arabic, or “hope,” an anniversary gift: The UAE wanted to send a probe to Mars in 2021 to celebrate 50 years of its independence from the United Kingdom. But how do you do that when you start from scratch to conquer space, without infrastructure or experience? You need a large check book. The Arab state established international partnerships in the first decade of this century, especially with South Korea and France, to train Emirati engineers in satellite design. Then he set up his space agency in 2014 with the stated goal of reaching Mars, and this time he continues to work on transferring skills and technologies from the United States. Building the Probe of Hope is a collaboration with the University of Colorado at Boulder: The UAE insisted on Build the probe, not buy itAtmospheric and Space Physics Laboratory (LASP) reports. 200 Americans and 150 Emiratis worked together, partly from afar, each on their own side of the world, and partly on the American campus where the Arab team had long stays. As for the launch of the mission, it was entrusted to the Japanese on board the H-IIA missile.
Project Hope was launched at the end of July and is now in the final approach phase. It should enter Mars orbit around 4:30 pm Paris time, and stay there for at least two years (Earth) to study the Martian atmosphere, carrying the torch of the American mission. Veteran (2014). We know that a few billion years ago, Mars’ atmosphere was dense enough to keep the planet warm with its lakes and rivers of liquid water. Why and how did it escape into space, leaving behind a cold and dry planet? Hope will try to clarify the story by measuring all weather phenomena on the red planet, at any point from the North Pole to the South Pole and at all altitudes – a worldview that no probe has been able to achieve. . It is the first Arab probe to travel to another planet, as the UAE Space Agency has made clear, is proud to present to the world a face of the country that is open to the outside, to technology and progress.
China poses questions on Mars
Landing is one thing and landing is another. But the gap to be bridged does not impress the China Space Agency (CNSA), which tells of successes like Pearls by remaking the entire history of space exploration after fifty years of the Americans and the Soviets. Astronauts are sent to space with a Chinese rocket. It landed on the moon (three times) and rolled there on the autonomous rover, it’s over. A Mir-sized space station is being built in Earth orbit (the first module will be launched this year). To catch up with the greatest space powers, it remains to send probes to the other end of the solar system and succeed in landing its legs on Mars, a technical achievement accomplished by two countries in history, and that only Americans have mastered it since 1973. Five years ago, the European Space Agency tried to land In the Schiaparelli lander on Mars. Boom, crash, fail. But China intends to get there for the first time.
The Tianwen-1 spacecraft is named after Questions to Heaven, A poem by Chinese author Qu Yuan in the form of a series of unanswered questions about heaven, earth, nature and the human world. Very complicated, it consists of three units. The first is a satellite that will enter Mars orbit on Wednesday – near the target it sent The first black and white image of Mars. The rest of the ship will be separated in May to gently land on the ground. That’s the whole difficulty of the exercise: Without the ability to rely on the friction of the Martian atmosphere, it would be so thin, the probe would have to brake hard enough with a massive parachute and then the retrograde rockets. Then he launches a small robot with wheels. The 200-kilogram spacecraft will have 90 days in front of Mars to explore its territory, backed by four solar panels. About the Tianwen-1 mission program: “Mapping the morphology and geological structure, studying soil properties and the distribution of water ice, analyzing the composition of surface materials, measuring the ionosphere and the characteristics of the climate of Mars, and understanding the physical fields (electromagnetism, gravity) and the internal structure of Mars.”
United States: “perseverance” to find traces of life
At NASA, we no longer wonder if we could ever land on Mars without harm – even if some of the control center’s toenails were chewed during the famous flight. Seven minutes of horrorThe ship lands in complete autonomy while Earth waits for its news (which takes a quarter of an hour to arrive). But the exercise has become almost routine since the first US spacecraft to operate on Mars, Sojourner, in 1996. Since then, there have been twins Spirit and Opportunity in 2004, and then Curiosity in 2012 that heralded a new type of landing: as large as a car, Heavyweight, the Rovers can no longer jump onto the surface of Mars to protect a group of inflatable balloons. It was laid on the ground by cables, by some kind of flying crane. The March 2020 mission arriving next Thursday will use this method to provide perseverance, a younger brother and a near-carbon version of Curiosity.
This mobile laboratory will spread its wheels in the Jizero crater on the Red Planet, an ancient delta that water reached through channels billions of years ago, to deposit sediments at the bottom of the lake. Images taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have revealed the presence of clay minerals on Earth. Thus this delta is a potential gold mine, since the clay preserves the organic matter well. Are we ever going to find traces of past lives there, the Holy Grail of space exploration? Perseverance will not be able to detect it on its own: only an earthly laboratory can recognize the signature of a living being. But the rover will do its best, especially with its very advanced designed chemical camera in Toulouse, the SuperCam, which fires lasers to analyze rock formation. The rover will take the most interesting specimens with its articulated arm, store it in tubes and put it in a cache … to bring it back to Earth. NASA and the European Space Agency are already preparing for the mission to recover these precious bits from Mars.
Meanwhile, persistence will help track down the geological history of Mars, which may be very close to Earth’s history, when life first appeared. The rover will also launch a drone into the air of Mars and attempt to manufacture oxygen to prepare for man’s first steps on the red planet. Unless there is a problem, the vehicle will travel for miles and last for many years thanks to its nuclear battery.
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