Tuesday, July 21, 2020

To Mars or Bust

Environmental & Science Education
Solar System
Earth Science
Earth Systems
Edward Hessler

"OH! THE PLACES YOU’LL GO! You’ll be on your way up! You’ll be seeing great sights! You’ll join the high fliers who soar to high heights.”--Dr. Seuss

Akexandra Witze, Smriti Mallapaty and Elizabeth Gibney begin their essay in the British scientific journal Nature on three space launches to Mars in the next few weeks by noting that each one is " pioneer in its own right. Three different missions. Three different nations. Three different aims. Each is ambitious and, of course, risky.  
"Three times in the coming month or so, rockets will light their engines and set course for Mars. A trio of nations — the United States, China and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) — will be sending robotic emissaries to the red planet, hoping to start new chapters of exploration there.
"Each mission is a pioneer in its own right. The United States is sending its fifth rover, NASA’s most capable ever, in the hope of finding evidence of past life on Mars and collecting a set of rocks that will one day be the first samples flown back to Earth. China aims to build on its lunar-exploration successes by taking one of its rovers to Mars for the first time. And the UAE will be launching an orbiter — the first interplanetary mission by any Arab nation — as a test of its young but ambitious space agency.
"It is far from a given that all these missions will make it; Mars is notorious as a graveyard for failed spacecraft. But if they do, they will substantially rewrite scientific understanding of the planet. The two rovers are heading for parts of Mars that have never been explored( see ‘Landing sites’), and the UAE’s orbiter will track the changing Martian atmosphere."

Each mission is discussed and richly illustrated with diagrams, including details of how they work once there. The article is described as an 11-minute read. Each mission is discussed separately.

Perseverance is the U. S. mission. It's aim is to collect rock samples to be returned to Earth in a future mission. "It will also study the planet's weather and geology, hunt for water, produce oxygen from carbon dioxide, record sounds for the first time and test a solar-power helicopter.

Tianwen-1, "quest for heavenly truth," will be China's deepest probe into the solar system. It is the first mission to carry an orbiter, rover and lander. The orbiter has instruments and the rover five. "The subsurface radar on the orbiter can peer 100 metres deep to map geological structures and search for water and ice. Medium- and high-resolution cameras will collect images of features such as dunes, glaciers and volcanoes, providing clues to how they formed. Both the orbiter and rover will carry spectrometers to study the composition of soil and rocks, looking especially for evidence of how water has altered geological features. The team also plans to collect atmospheric data on temperature, air pressure, wind speed and direction, as well as study the magnetic and gravitational fields on Mars."

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) chose the name Hope, for their orbiter. This will be the UAE's first probe to beyond Earth orbit. It aims to produce the first global weather map of Mars.--the entire planet.

If successful, the Emirates Mars Mission (EMM) will not only mark the first interplanetary venture of any Arab nation, but also produce the first global weather map of Mars. It is to be placed into a large elliptical orbit so that almost the entire planet can be covered and data recorded in each 55-hour orbit. It includes a visible-light camera, an infrared spectrometer (cloud and dust storm study), and an ultraviolet spectrometer to monitor upper atmosphere gases.
"Unusually for an interplanetary project, the idea for the mission came not from scientists but from the government itself — and with a non-negotiable deadline of 2 December 2021, the country’s 50th anniversary. Picking such an audacious task was designed not only to inspire young people in the region but also to kick-start the UAE’s move to a knowledge-based economy, says Omran Sharaf, project director for the EMM."

UPDATE: Good news. The United Arab Emirates'  Hope orbiter launched successfully from the Tanegashima Space Center, near Minamitane, Japan July 20. Now the wait--7 months. 

Elizabeth Gibney notes that "Without experience of its own in interplanetary missions, the UAE Space Agency hired US collaborators — mainly from the University of Colorado, Boulder — to guide it through the process and build up science and engineering capacity within the UAE.
Gibney also quotes one of the UC-Boulder engineers, “This marks a historic moment for the United Arab Emirates and the entire Arab world and I could not be more honoured to be a part of this incredible day,” says Brett Landin, an engineer at the University of Colorado Boulder, who leads the mission’s spacecraft team. “As much as I’d like for our team to be able to celebrate and take a well-deserved break, the difficult work of operating the spacecraft has now just begun.” 
 Seventy-five Emirati scientists and engineers were deeply involved.


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