In July 2020, three Mars-bound spacecrafts lifted off from Earth to make the roughly 300-million-mile journey to the Red Planet. Seven months later, they're all about to arrive. While accomplishing anything in space is tough, Mars missions, in particular, are rather challenging tasks — historically, fewer than half have succeeded. So, it's all eyes on the sky (or rather, on our computer screens) as the United Arab Emirates' Hope orbiter, China's Tianwen-1 probe, and the United States' Perseverance rover are set to arrive. Here's what to know about each mission, and how you can tune in for their arrivals to Mars.
UAE’s Hope (Al-Amal): Arrives Feb. 9
With the Hope spacecraft, known as Al-Amal in Arabic, the UAE is making its debut on Mars — or rather around it. Hope isn't a lander, but an orbiter designed to spend one year circling the planet and gathering data. If Hope successfully enters its intended orbit, the UAE will become the fifth country to successfully reach Mars. Of course, there's a whole lot that needs to go right, including a 27-minute engine burn designed to slow down the spacecraft from roughly 75,000 mph to 11,000 mph.
You'll be able to watch live coverage of Hope's arrival at emiratesmarsmission.ae/live on Feb. 9. ("Live" is a relative term — the data relayed from Mars will take about 11 minutes to arrive here on Earth, so the mission controllers are technically operating on a delay.) The engine burn starts around 10:30 am EST, so you can expect the coverage to begin before that.
China’s Tianwen-1: Arrives Feb. 10
China hopes to become the third country to successfully land on Mars with its Tianwen-1 spacecraft — something that only the U.S. and former Soviet Union have accomplished. Tianwen-1 comprises two vehicles, an orbiter and a rover. The orbiter will arrive at Mars on Feb. 10, while the rover is scheduled to land in May. As with the Hope mission, achieving Mars orbit requires a significant slowdown, which needs to be executed very precisely — there's plenty of room for error.
Tuning into a livestream of Tianwen-1's orbital insertion is easier said than done. China is notoriously tight-lipped when it comes to its space missions, and it won't likely broadcast anything directly. That said, independent outlets or journalists might stream their own coverage, depending on what information is publicly available.
NASA Perseverance: Arrives Feb. 18
Of the world's space agencies, NASA has the best record on Mars, with several orbiters, landers, and rovers all surviving their trip to the planet and commencing operations once there. In fact, the U.S. is the only country to achieve a successful rover landing — and it's done it four times. Perseverance, nicknamed Percy, will be the fifth if all goes according to plan on Feb. 18, when it's scheduled to land. One of the most exciting parts of the mission is that Percy is carrying the first Mars helicopter on board. The drone-like vehicle, named Ingenuity, will test crucial technology for future missions, including human ones.
NASA has published a full schedule of live events taking place during the lead-up to Percy's landing, which will be broadcast via NASA TV. Coverage of the landing itself will begin at 2:15 p.m. EST on Feb. 18.
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