Mars Exploration in 2020
There are three sequential Mars exploration missions in 2020. On July 20, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) ¡°Al-Amal¡± (Hope) Mars orbiter was launched in Japan. On July 23, China successfully launched the ¡°Tianwen-1¡± (Questions to Heaven) Mars probe with the Long March 5 rocket (Figure 1). On July 30, NASA's most advanced Mars rover, the ¡°Perseverance,¡± lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Base in Florida. So far, the three Mars missions in the launch window of this round have been successfully implemented, which is relatively significant with regard to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the ExoMars 2020 (Exobiology on Mars) mission, a joint venture between the European Space Agency and its Russian partner, has been delayed until 2022 because of a mixture of technical gremlins and the COVID-19 outbreak.
Hope is the first Mars probe in both the UAE and the Arab world, representing the Arabic ambition to explore deep space. However, the UAE lacks a scientific foundation for Mars exploration. American research institutions have undertaken the development of all three payloads and the final assembly of the probe, while the launch was undertaken using an H-2A rocket in Japan. The team of scientists and engineers in the UAE is deeply involved in the development of this mission and believe that they have played a significant role as apprentices.
The Tianwen-1 probe is China's first independent Mars exploration mission, comprising an orbiter, lander, and rover. It will carry out circumnavigation, landing, and roving patrol detection in one mission. The orbiter is scheduled to enter orbit around Mars in February 2021. The lander is scheduled to land on the Utopian Planitia in the northern hemisphere of Mars in May 2021. It will conduct scientific investigations on Martian soil, the geological structure, environment, atmosphere, and subsurface water ice. Tianwen-1 is the first chapter of China's ambition toward planetary exploration. In the future, China will carry out exploration of asteroids, exploration of Jupiter, and return programs to Mars for sampling. At the end of 2020, China will launch the Chang'e 5 mission to collect 2 kg of lunar soil and rock samples and return to Earth. The last Moon sampling was in the Apollo Era, i.e., 60 years ago.
The Perseverance rover will land in the Jezero Crater on Mars in February 2021 to search for signs of ancient microbial life formed 3.5 billion years ago. With the good foundation laid by the Curiosity rover that landed on Mars in 2012, Perseverance will carry out bolder explorations, functioning as a robotic geologist. The nuclear power supply on the rover can be used continuously for 14 years and it is equipped with 23 cameras. A drone will fly in the thin Martian atmosphere for the first time and is expected to greatly improve the operational efficiency of the rover. It will collect and store geological samples that may contain evidence of alien life, and there are plans to bring them back to Earth during the next mission to Mars. The United States has previously implemented 20 Mars exploration missions, accumulated rich experience, and completed all surface landing missions on Mars. It has been 60 years since the Soviet Union launched its first failed Mars probe in 1960. Over the past decades, Japan, India, the UAE, China, and Europe have joined the Mars Club. After the successful launch of the Tianwen-1 and the Perseverance rover in July, the Chinese and American space agencies exchanged congratulatory messages to each other and welcomed mutual contributions to Mars exploration.
The Mars probe includes a flyby spacecraft, an orbiter lander, and a rover. Landing on Mars is obviously the most difficult challenge. The scientific themes of Mars exploration range from global remote sensing to detailed surveys on landing in a certain area of interest. Also, in-depth surveys of specific issues are included, such as InSight to explore the internal structure of Mars, MAVEN to investigate the mysterious disappearance of the Martian atmosphere. It is clear that, more than 3 billion years ago, Mars had a warm and humid climate, a strong magnetic field, a dense atmosphere, and an environment suitable for life. Earth also had similar conditions, which eventually led to the development of life. Whether a similar process occurred on Mars is key to answering the question of whether we are alone in the Universe. On the other hand, SpaceX¡¯s aim is the long-term goal of Mars migration, and has successfully developed reusable rockets and a manned spacecraft. The scientific and technical issues that need to be resolved around whether Mars is suitable for large-scale human migration are important for future Mars exploration.
Mars is the Mars of all mankind and the hope for the future of humanity. The big stride facing humans is shifting from landing on the Moon to emigrating to Mars, which not only costs a huge amount of money but also requires diversified talents, the integration of advanced innovations, and international cooperation. In the past, the manned Moon landings reflected the wrestling power of the two superpowers in the field of space exploration. Looking to the future, we expect the first manned mission to land on Mars in 2035, demonstrating the spirit of multidisciplinary collaboration and the glory of human beings.