The space race between the United States and the Soviet Union in the 1960s ignited many people’s thirst for space exploration. As the United States and the Soviet Union jockeyed for the title of winner, they sent a space probe, a dog, a chimpanzee, and men into space. Space exploration has advanced considerably since the Sputnik I was first launched. Countries around the world are sending missions to the moon and other planets in the solar system and scientists have mapped out all of the Milky Way. Missions to Mars and Venus are also no longer a distant dream. Many countries have sent missions to both planets to further their understanding of them. Here is a quick overview of the recent and future missions to both Mars and Venus.
Image Created by Joey Serricchio
Mars Missions Launched in 2020
While the pandemic has put a stop to many projects, 3 missions were still launched by 3 different countries: the Hope Probe by the United Arab Emirates, Tianwen 1 by China, and Mars 2020 by the United States. Each mission targeted different questions that scientists wanted to answer.
The first of the three missions to launch was the Hope orbiter mission from the United Arab Emirates. Launched from the Tanegashima Space Center on 19 July 2020, the mission aims to create a picture of Mars’ atmosphere. With the picture of Mars's atmosphere, the mission also seeks to find the reason behind the sudden loss of hydrogen and oxygen gas from Mars's atmosphere, the connection of the upper and lower levels of its atmosphere, and to find the connection between Martian weather now and the ancient climate of Mars.
The Hope probe weighs 1500 kg and carries with it three scientific instruments to study Mars’s atmosphere and fulfill the purpose of the mission. The first of the instruments is called the Emirates Mars Infrared Spectrometer (EMIRS) and it studies the lower atmosphere using infrared light, measures the distribution of dust, ice clouds, water Vapors, and temperature profiles, and also provides a connection from the upper atmosphere to the lower atmosphere. The second instrument is called the Emirates Exploration Imager (EXI). This instrument studies the lower atmosphere using visible and UltraViolet light, Takes high-resolution pictures, and measures other elements present within the atmosphere of Mars. The third and final instrument is the Emirates Mars Ultraviolet Spectrometer (EMUS) and it measures the relative changes in the thermosphere, detects ultraviolet wavelength, and measures and calculates various gases present in the atmosphere.
The second Mars mission from 2020 is Tianwen from China that launched on the 23rd of January and reaches Mars in February of 2021. This mission is made up of a Lander and an Orbiter. Unlike the orbiter sent by the UAE, this rover and orbiter duo seeks to study the Martian topography and geology specifically to find out more about the soil and water ice content, composition of surface material, profile Martian ionosphere climate and environment. this Mission also seeks to find out more about the gravity and magnetic fields and their interior structure.
The Orbiter is hexagonal with two solar panel wings and then a dish antenna mounted on the side. The orbiter is equipped with one high and one moderate resolution imaging camera, a mineralogy spectrometer, a magnetometer, an ion and neutral particle analyzer, an energetic particle analyzer, and a subsurface detection analyzer. The rover weighs about 240 kilograms and has 6 wheels and a set of solar panels to provide power. It also carries multiple cameras and sensors to collect data on the terrain, surface components, atmosphere, and subsurface.
The final mission launched in 2020 is the Mars 2020 from the United States that launched on the 30th of July. Like Tianwen 1, Mars 2020 is expected to land in February 2021. The mission consists of a rover named Preserverence and a small rotorcraft named Ingenuity that flies in the martian atmosphere. The goal of this mission is to search for signs of past microbial life and environments suitable for potential past microbial life. Along with searching for signs of past life, the mission also aims to collect and cache samples of core rock and regolith for future missions and test the atmosphere’s oxygen production.
Perseverance weighs approximately 1050 kg and is based on the Curiosity rover sent to Mars in 2011. The rover is equipped with cameras, sensors, an antenna, and a spectrometer. Ingenuity weighs around 1.8 kilograms and carries no specialized equipment to record data as it is an experimental technology test. The primary goal of Ingenuity is to test whether the controlled autonomous flight can be possible in Mars’s atmosphere.
Mars Missions in Development
Along with missions currently launched in 2020, the various space exploration agencies have also begun development for missions set to launch in the near future. Some are set to launch in 2021 and others have been set to launch in 2032. The following missions listed are only missions independent and projected to launch in before or during 2023.
ExoMars 2022 is part of the European Space Agency’s ExoMars program and is set to launch sometime between August and October 2022 and land on Mars between April and July of 2023. Similar to the purpose of Mars 2020, this mission seeks to find signs of past life on Mars, investigate the changes in water and geochemical environment, as well as explore the sources of atmospheric trace gases. The mission is also testing technology for a future international sample return mission.
ExoMars2022 is made up of a European rover (Rosalind Franklin) and a Russian surface platform (Kazachok). The rover is rigged with various cameras and sensors to ensure that the rover remains safe during its travels. Rosalind Franklin also carries an array of scientific instruments that can collect and analyze samples, imagers, and spectrometers. Kazachok will remain stationary and take measurements there throughout the duration of the mission. The landing platform carries 9 different instruments to measure and monitor various aspects of the planet.
The Escape and Plasma Acceleration and Dynamics Explorers (EscaPADE) is a mission funded by the United States that is going to be launched on 1 January 2022. The mission itself comprises of 2 identical space crafts. The aim of this mission is to study Mars’ hybrid magnetosphere to find its influence on ion flows, how it allows energy and momentum to be transported from solar winds and the processes behind controlling energy and matter flow through a collisional atmosphere.
Each spacecraft weighs less than 90 kg and carries 3 scientific experiments. The First is a magnetometer that measures magnetic fields. The second is an electrostatic analyzer specifically made to measure suprathermal ions and suprathermal electrons. The final experiment measures plasma density and solar EUV flux.
Due to scientists’ better understanding of Mars compared to Venus. More efforts have been made to further investigate Mars as a potential candidate for colonization. However, with the recent discovery of phosphine on Venus, likely more resources will be diverted to studying Venus.
While Mars has had 3 missions launched in 2020, Venus has had only one mission. The Solar Orbiter from the European Space Agency launched on the 10th of Feburary. While the main objective of the orbiter is to gather more information about the Sun, the orbiter will make 5 Venus flybys. This will allow the orbiter to gather some information about Venus for future Venus missions.