Context: The United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) first mission to Mars was launched from the Tanegashima Space Center, Japan, aboard a Mitsubishi Heavy Industries’ H-II A rocket.

About Hope: 

  • Amal (Hope) is the Arab world’s first mission to Mars. The mission is being executed by the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre, UAE’s space agency.
  • Hope is scheduled to reach Mars’s orbit Mars in February 2021 and then start orbiting the planet. Its overall mission life is one Martian year (687 Days).
  • Objectives: The Emirates Mars Mission called “Hope” aims to create mankind’s first integrated model of the Red planet’s atmosphere.
    • It will orbit Mars to study the Martian atmosphere and its interaction with outer space and solar winds which should help scientists understand why Mars’ atmosphere is decaying into space.
    • Evidence resembling dry river beds and minerals indicates that the ancient Martian atmosphere was much warmer, allowing water to flow on its surface.
    • Therefore, scientists want to study the past environments that would have existed on Mars to understand how a planet’s habitability can change over time.
  • Hope weighs over 1500 kg, and will carry scientific instruments including 
  • the Emirates eXploration Imager (EXI), which is a high-resolution camera, 
  • the Emirates Mars Ultraviolet Spectrometer (EMUS), 
  • a far-UV imaging spectrograph, 
  • the Emirates Mars InfraRed Spectrometer (EMIRS), and
  • FTIR scanning spectrometer.

Mars’ decaying atmosphere:

  • In 2017, NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft revealed that solar wind and radiation had destroyed the Martian atmosphere from the planet, which could have supported life billions of years ago. 
  • The destruction changed the Mars’ atmosphere into too cold and thin to provide stability to liquid water, which is essential for life. 
  • No human has set foot on Mars yet because the atmosphere on Mars is very thin, consisting of mostly carbon dioxide with no breathable oxygen, making it difficult for astronauts to survive there. 
  • The landscape of Mars is freezing, with no protection from the Sun’s radiation or passing dust storms. 

Upcoming Mars Missions

  • The UAE launch marks the first of three missions being planned to Mars in the end of July.
  • China plans its first Mars probe, Tianwen-1 (formerly Huoxing 1), will launch on a Long March 5 Y-4 booster from Xichang, China. 
    • It consists of an orbiter, a lander and a rover and aims to study Martian topography and geology and determine the composition of the surface material, climate and environment.
  • The US, the only country that has sent previous missions to Mars, plans its Perseverance mission on July 30. 
    • The rover will explore ancient habitability, seek signs of ancient life, gather rock and soil samples that could be returned to Earth and demonstrate technology for future robotic and human exploration.

Why are the missions planned for July launch?

  • The end of July 2020 offers a launch window during which Earth and Mars will be aligned at their closest points in two years, which means using less fuel to reach the planet. 

Significance of  Mars exploration: After the Moon, the most number of space missions in the Solar System have been to Mars. It is due to the following reasons:

  • Earth like features: Although Mars is starkly different in many ways from the Earth, it has several Earth-like features– such as clouds, polar ice caps, canyons, volcanoes, and seasonal weather patterns.
  • Signs of presence of water: In the past few years, Mars missions have been able to discover the possible presence of liquid water on the planet, either in the subsurface today or at some point in its past.
  • May support life: Possible presence of water has made space explorers more curious about whether the planet can sustain life. 

About Mars

  • Mars, fourth planet in the solar system in order of distance from the Sun and seventh in size and mass. 
  • It is a periodically conspicuous reddish object in the night sky. 
    • Mars is known as the Red Planet because iron minerals in the Martian soil oxidize, or rust, causing the soil and atmosphere to look red.
  • Martian year: For any planet, a year is the time it takes to make one orbit around the sun. 
    • Because Mars is farther away from the sun, it has to travel a greater distance around the sun. It takes Mars about twice as long as it does for Earth to make one circle around the sun.

Mars’ atmosphere is composed primarily of carbon dioxide (about 96 percent), with minor amounts of other gases such as argon and nitrogen. 

  • The atmosphere is very thin, however, and the atmospheric pressure at the surface of Mars is only about 0.6 percent of Earth’s (101,000 pascals).
  • The primary reason for Mars’ atmospheric loss is the solar wind!

Temperature: Without a "thermal blanket," Mars can't retain any heat energy. 

  • On average, the temperature on Mars is about minus 80 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 60 degrees Celsius). 

Mars has two small moons: Phobos and Deimos. Both Phobos and Deimos were discovered in 1877 by American astronomer Asaph Hall. 

  • The moons appear to have surface materials similar to many asteroids in the outer asteroid belt, which leads most scientists to believe that Phobos and Deimos are captured asteroids.
Image Source: Nasa