space-race-to-reach-mars

Context: China recently launched a rover to Mars, signaling a space race with the US.

More on the news:

  • It also marks a busy week for Mars missions, with the UAE having launched the Hope Mars mission recently.
    • It does not involve a landing, but an orbital mission that will study the Martian atmosphere.
  • The current period offers a window for such launches, with the alignment of Earth and Mars allowing a short journey.

About Tianwen-1 

  • China’s first Mars probe is called Tianwen-1 (formerly Huoxing 1), which means “Questions to Heaven”. 
  • The mission consists of an orbiter, a lander and a rover.
  • Aims of the mission
    • The scientific goals of the mission include studying Martian topography and geology and determining the composition of the surface material, climate and environment.
  • Timelines: Tianwen-1 will reach the orbit of Mars in February 2021. The rover will land on Mars in May,2021
  • The orbiter will use high-resolution cameras to search for a suitable landing site somewhere in the Utopia Planitia region.

China’s entry in Space Race to Mars

  • Change in earlier domination
    • Space exploration has been dominated by the US and Russia for more than 50 years. 
    • China joining the Mars race will surely change the situation dominated by the US for half a century.
  • Space missions of China
    • China sent a human into space in 2003. China has also started plans to set up a space station by 2022. 
    • China has also sent two rovers to the Moon, with the second landing on the far side.
    • China, in partnership with Russia, had attempted a mission to Mars in 2011 too, but the launch had failed.

Other Mars Mission

About Hope Mission, UAE:

  • The Emirates Mars Mission called “Hope” aims to create mankind’s first integrated model of the Red planet’s atmosphere.
  • Hope is the Arab world’s first mission to Mars.
  • 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.

The Perseverance rover of US

  • NASA’s newest rover Perseverance will look for signs of habitable conditions on Mars and microbial life in its ancient past.
    • NASA’s Curiosity rover has been exploring Mars since 2012. It remains active although its targeted mission life is over. 
  • Over its mission duration of one Martian year (687 Earth days), the mission will collect Martian rock and sediment samples for analysis on Earth.
  • The mission will look for signs of microbial life
    • The rover is expected to land in the Jezero crater, which is considered to have “high potential” for hints of past microbial life.
  • A key part of this mission is to set the stage for human exploration. For instance, scientific instruments like MOXIE will demonstrate a technology that converts carbon dioxide in the Martian atmosphere into oxygen.
  • The Perseverance rover is equipped with specialized equipment to collect data, analyze weather conditions that can also help plan for future human missions, and produce oxygen from the carbon-dioxide-rich atmosphere.
  • The rover is expected to touch down on Mars on February 18, 2021. 

Difficulty in a Mars Mission

  • A greater distance between Earth- Mars means “a bigger light travel time, so things related to the mission need to be done more slowly as the radio signal round trip time is large”. 
  • It also means there is a need for a more sensitive ground station on Earth because the signals will be much fainter.

 

About Mars

  • Mars, fourth planet in the solar system in order of distance from the Sun and seventh in size and mass. 
  • 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.

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.

Sources:

Image Mint