The month of the robot invasion of Mars is upon us. Seven months ago, the United States, China and the United Arab Emirates launched missions on a 480 million-kilometer journey to Mars.
Last week, two of the three missions arrived quietly and settled into Mars orbit. However, the last spacecraft to arrive, NASA’s Mars 2020 endurance mission, does not enter the Martian atmosphere gently. On Thursday, February 18, NASA’s last Mars mission is destined to uncover evidence of ancient microbial life on the distant planet, put to the touchdown after a spectacular display of extremely complex technology.
To come to Mars
Launching to the red planet is a strategic maneuver that can only be completed once every two years. This is due to the different speeds and the elliptical shape of the planets’ orbit around the sun. The point where Earth and Mars are in line close enough to minimize travel time, called an opposition, occurs only once every two years.
The latest opposition emerged in July 2020. Four international Mars missions were scheduled to leave Earth that summer, but due to further parachute certification required, the European Space Agency’s ExoMars Rosalind Franklin rover had to wait for its launch opportunity during the next planetary resistance. occur in 2022. It left three robot invaders from the United States, the United Arab Emirates and China to escape Earth’s orbit and become interplanetary superstars.
Hope arrives in Mars
The United Arab Emirates’ first interplanetary mission, an al-Amal or Hope Probe spacecraft, was developed in collaboration between the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center, the Laboratory of Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado Boulder, Arizona State University and the Space Sciences Lab. at the University of California, Berkeley. It was launched on July 19, 2020 from the Tanegashima Space Center in Japan aboard an H2A202 rocket. On Tuesday, February 9, Hope Probe was the first of three missions to complete its journey to Mars and successfully enter orbit.
Hope Probe arrived at an almost Mars orbit traveling at approximately 75,000 km / h (121,000 km / h), far too fast to achieve a safe Mars orbital deployment maneuver. To slow down to the approx. 11,000 km / h (18,000 km / h) required to be captured by Mars orbit, the spacecraft had to independently shoot its main propellers and perform a Mars Orbit Insertion combustion that lasted a painful 27 minutes. To compensate in the event of a thruster failure, there was a security breach protocol that would have doubled the burn length. After 27 strenuous minutes, Mohammad Bin Rashid Space Center in Dubai reported that the maneuver had been successfully completed and Hope Probe had arrived at its final destination.
Unlike the US and Chinese missions to Mars, which will land rovers on the surface, the United Arab Emirates’ hope probe will remain in Mars orbit for as long as its mission lasts – about two March years. The spacecraft is equipped with a package of three instruments, two spectrometers – one infrared and one ultraviolet – to study the atmosphere of Mars and an image processing to take high-resolution images to study the surface far away.
China’s Tianwen-1 Rover will hang out in orbit before landing in May
The same type of Mars Orbit Insertion maneuver was completed with China’s first interplanetary mission, the Tianwen-1 spacecraft. Launched from China on July 23, 2020, Tianwen-1 arrived at Mars’ orbit just one day after Hope Probe on Wednesday, February 10th.
The Tianwen-1 spacecraft had to autonomously complete an unbearable 11-minute “braking” combustion to slow down, leading it behind the planet as it was captured by Mars’ gravity and entered orbit.
Like NASA’s endurance, the Tianwen-1 mission has a rover that will eventually land on the surface of Mars. However, the process of getting the rover to the surface varies from NASA’s Mars 2020 endurance mission.
The Tianwen-1 spacecraft is made of two components, an orbiter and a rover. Currently, it is planned that the orbit will spend some time in Mars’ orbit during a period of extensive observation before attempting to land a rover in May. Ideally, the spacecraft will then touch in a region known as Utopia Planitia.
Once the rover safely reaches the surface, it will begin the mission investigation period. The rover carries a number of scientific instruments that will be used to study the composition of the Martian surface, which searches for the potential distribution of water and ice. Similar to China’s Yutu 2 rover exploring the Moon, the Tianwen 1 rover also carries a panoramic camera for the image of the planet.
Perseverance and ingenuity like no other
The last of the three Mars missions – NASA’s Mars 2020 endurance mission launched on 30 July 2020from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket. As far as Mars’ arrivals go, the best has certainly been saved in the end. Following the success of the other two missions from China and the United Arab Emirates, the stage is set for perseverance to make its dramatic entrance.
NASA’s Mars 2020 endurance mission is by far the most ambitious mission to be launched to Mars during the planet transfer window 2020. NASA is trying not to land one, but two spacecraft on the surface of Mars. The $ 2.4 billion Mars 2020 mission consists of Perseverance Rover – driven by the heat produced by radioactive decay of Plutonium – and a first of its kind rotating helicopter called Ingenuity. It is scheduled to arrive dramatically on Thursday, February 18th.
Instead of performing a braking maneuver to brake and enter Mars orbit, the Perseverance spacecraft will autonomously complete the procedure of entry, descent and landing (EDL) – essentially going from traveling several thousand miles per hour to slowly fall down under a parachute canopy to soft land in minutes.
The spacecraft – housed in a protective aeroshell with its robust heat shield facing the planet’s surface – will break into Mars’ atmosphere traveling at almost 12,500 km / h. Once through, Pesevereance will tear off its heat shield and autonomously begin scanning the Martain terrain to determine its relative location and make adjustments to find an optimal landing site. Then a powered pedigree module will be installed that transports the rover the rest of the way down and brakes to less than 2 km / h (3 km / h). Finally, the descent module will hover and implement a complex harness system that lowers endurance – and its failed, ingenuity helicopter – to the surface of Mars for touch.
After seven months of interplanetary travel, it all comes down to the last seven minutes – how long the EDL process is expected to take. All spacecraft controllers left on Earth can do is watch and wait for the last telemetry reading indicating that endurance has successfully stirred down. That’s why this process has been nicknamed “seven minutes of terror.”
From kl. 11:15 PST (19:15 UTC) On Thursday, February 18, NASA will provide live coverage of Perseverance’s landing attempt. The agency will carry the coverage on NASA TV and its websiteas well as a number of other platforms including YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitch, Daily Motion, Theta.TV and the NASA App.
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