Space race: UAE, US and Chinese missions ready to explore Mars Space News

The red planet is going to be a bit crowded. Three different missions to Mars, launched by the United States, China and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), will reach their destination this month after flying within just 11 days of each other in 2020.

Untouched missions promise to provide new insights for Earth-bound scientists with the intention of unraveling the mysteries of the solar system and scanning Mars for signs of supernatural life, as well as enhancing our collective understanding of the universe.

Experts say that Mars’ venture into the new geopolitical space race is also the latest milestone, as the world’s most powerful countries once again compete with each other for dominance beyond the Earth’s surface.

“Competition in space is heating up,” Christopher Impe, professor of astronomy and associate dean at the College of Science at the University of Arizona, USA, told Al Jazeera. “The three missions to Mars in a month are unprecedented.”

“Collectively, they will add a lot to our knowledge of the red planet,” Impe said.

Impe said that each enterprise “has different objectives and capabilities”. The US and Chinese missions, which come against the backdrop of intense geopolitical rivalry between the two countries, include plans to land explorer Rovers on Mars, while the UAE focuses on surveying from above through an orchiter.

The UAE mission will be the first to reach Mars orbit on Tuesday, ushering in a new era of space exploration for Gulf countries.

UAE’s stunning space ‘Expectation’

Named Al Amal, the Arabic word for “expectation”, the UAE Space Agency probe represents its first entry into space.

Al Amal will spend 687 days – a period equivalent to one year on Mars – collecting information on Mars’ atmosphere and surveying the planet’s weather patterns over its four seasons.

By doing so, it can shed light on the mystery of Mars’ transformation from a warm, wet world – an environment with a surface thick enough to support liquid water, and possibly capable of supporting life. Is – in the cold and barren planet. today.

Matthew Siegler, a research scientist at the nonprofit US-based Planetary Science Institute, said the findings of the investigation could help determine when favorable conditions existed for life on Mars.

“Currently liquid water is too low to be stable on the surface of liquid water,” Seigler told Al Jazeera. “By carefully measuring the atmosphere, we can better model how long ago the atmosphere may be suitable for liquid water on the surface, and therefore possibly suitable for life.”

Along with promising to improve our understanding of Mars’s past, the research of the craft can also guide scientists’ plans for future missions and increase their understanding of whether the fourth from the Sun The planet has the potential to receive human visitors – or, in the long term, settlers, the head of the UAE’s Mars mission, Omran Sharaf told National Geographic.

The UAE investigation will collect information on the Martian atmosphere and survey the planet’s weather patterns through all four seasons [File: Jon Gambrell/AP Photo]

But the UAE mission has certainly set worldly aspirations as well.

Wendy Whitman Cobb, an associate professor of strategy and security studies at the US Airforce School of Advanced Air and Space Studies, pointed out that Al Jazeera’s venture was an underlying motivation “to drive domestic interest in space exploration”.

“The UAE is essentially using this mission to encourage a domestic space program,” he said, focusing on space exploration “as a means by which countries demonstrate not only their technological capabilities but also the global Compete for prestige “.

“although [the UAE] The mission was designed and paid for, it was built in the US and launched in Japan, so they needed to develop the talent to start doing these types of things more regularly. Is, ”said Whitman Cobb.

‘Chinese power launch’

The China National Space Administration has named the goals of its inaugural mission to Mars, named Tianwen-1, or “Question to Heaven”, closely guarded.

It is expected to probe the orbital insertion on February 10, eight days before the US Space Agency NASA-directed craft, which is about to arrive on the Red Planet with its Fortitude Rover in tow.

Although China’s probe would defeat NASA in reaching Mars, its lander component would not be attempted to touch the planet’s surface first. Instead, the plan is to keep it in orbit for two or three months, attaching it to the cruise ship which is finally charting it through the outer space before touching down.

China’s lander is projected to eventually make its dangerous descent into Mars’ biggest impact pit – Utopia Planitia – sometime in May, after which it will release a six-wheeled, solar-powered rover robot.

The rover, weighing around 240 kg (529 lb), will spend the next three months filtering the surface of the red planet, examining its geology and discovering pockets of water below the surface that may contain signs of life.

Meanwhile, the cruiser ship that is taking the rover to Mars will remain in orbit, studying the planet’s atmosphere using a suite of remote-sensitive devices.

The orbiter, which will also combine with Rover for high-speed data relays, is designed to operate for 687 days, reflecting the length of the Martian calendar and UAE probes.

The China National Space Administration has named the goals of its inaugural mission to Mars, named Tianwen-1, or ‘Question to Heaven’, closely guarded. [File: Zhang Gaoxiang/AP Photo]

If all goes to plan, the mission will make China the second country – along with the US – to successfully land a craft on Mars and execute a long-term research mission on the planet’s surface.

Whitman Cobb said, “The Chinese mission not only shows that they are serious about space, but they are also capable of America.”

“While competition may not be the primary driver of these missions, it is safe to say that it is part of the reckoning,” she said.

Impey of the University of Arizona offered a more direct assessment.

“It’s a new space race,” he said. “The Sino-US rivalry is the successor to the Soviet-American rivalry from the early space age.”

“China is very ambitious, with a moon base and eventually a Mars base, and plans for its own space station,” Impe added. “They are spending heavily, and success in space is directly linked to national pride and the launch of Chinese power.”

Persistence promises immense ‘scientific payoff’

China may be hot on its heels, but the US is still at the forefront of locating our solar system.

Todd Harrison is the director of the Aerospace Security Project and is a senior international security program fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington, D.C.-based think-tank.

Harrison told Al Jazeera that the US had maintained “a substantial edge in space exploration and space technology”, but that “China and other countries are working diligently to capture it.”

The US successfully landed on Mars eight times since its first such venture in 1976 and is still the only country to have placed astronauts on the moon during the Apollo missions between 1969 and 1972.

NASA’s six-wheeled firmer rover is set to touch near the Equatorial Jejero crater on 18 February. Weighing 1,025 kg (2,260 lb), nuclear-powered and car-shaped solidity is the most sophisticated explorer that has been sent to another planet and will spend at least two Earth years on Mars, collecting information and, crucially, Samples of, from. Rocks and soil.

Provided NASA’s probe safely navigates a harsh final descent to the surface, known by engineers as the “Seven Minutes of Terror” – a reference to the time it took off the top of Mars’ atmosphere It takes a craft to go down – the agency’s mission may prove to be the most important in terms of humanity’s understanding of Mars.

“The persistence is the first step in a multi-mission effort to bring samples of Mars back to Earth,” said Casey Dreyer, chief advocate and senior space policy adviser at The Planetary Society, a US-based NGO.

“This is a goal of the Mars science community such as 50 years, and perhaps the most ambitious robot project attempted,” he said. “Scientific payment can be immense.”

Mars has historically been hostile to spacecraft, with nearly half of all of the planet’s missions failing. [File: Joe Skipper/Reuters]

Siegler said NASA bid for the Martian material to be billions of years old and ferried back to Earth for analysis. It represents the “best way to test for past life” on the planet.

“The rover would descend to collect samples in an area where scientists believe that liquid water existed for a time in the history of Mars when life could exist,” he explained. “It’s also going to be an incredibly interesting water feature – a delta where a river is once dumped into a lake, which is one of the most unique geologic features we’ve ever discovered on Mars and in the past A prime target for hunting for signs of life. . “

According to the US Space Agency, a detachable miniature helicopter on Mars, armed with a number of scientific instruments and equipment, including Fortitude, will also help prepare for the possible future of Mars for future human missions.

The mission, it would appear, is a precursor to much American activity that NASA is planning on the planet in the coming years and decades.

More broadly, Whitman Cobb said, it symbolized the nation’s effort to maintain its current “advantage” in outer space.

‘Hope for a better tomorrow’

On this month’s fluctuations of Mars exploration activity, there are clear concerns among experts about the possible militarization of space, especially when it comes to the US-China rivalry.

These three missions can shed light on the mystery of the transformation of Mars from a warm, wet world – an atmosphere that has enough atmosphere to support liquid water on its surface, and is probably capable of supporting life – cold. And in the barren planet it is today [File: Hubble Telescope Image via Reuters]

But there are also delicate expectations that these out-of-the-world efforts may give the two countries a chance to cooperate.

“Cooperation is a political option,” Harrison said. “until we [the US and China] There are shared exploration goals, which we clearly do, then we should be able to find a way to collaborate with each other, despite disagreements in other areas. “

“National pride certainly plays a role in high profile space missions such as these, but I think the ultimate driver is a quest to try and learn more about our solar system,” he said.

Taken together, Impe said, these Mars promises to deliver “a great step forward” in our country by the US, China and the UAE as humans conduct complex missions in space, “a sign that One day, we can “master the entire solar system, and stay away from Earth”.

At a time when life on Earth is inhabited by the chaos and tragedy of the coronovirus pandemic, science is looking at expanding both sides of what we know and what we think, especially potential promises to be poignant. .

“Exploration always brings hope – hope for a better tomorrow,” he said. “All of us can still move forward on great things even in the face of global challenge.”