Three countries, the USA, China and the UAE are set to launch missions to Mars by July-end. Out of the three, NASA is the only one with prior experience on the Red Planet. The launches are set to happen despite the ongoing pandemic, because Mars is going to pass very close to the Earth, and missing this chance would mean waiting till 2022 to launch. This is not the case for all previously planned launches, however, as the European Space Agency had to cancel its own rover launch and postpone it till 2022 due to COVID-19.
The Americans aim to put a rover on the Martian surface called Perseverance. It will weigh over 1000 kg and will explore the Jezero Crater, an ancient riverbed that has a high chance of harboring remains of ancient life on the Red Planet. Perseverance also has an attached helicopter, Ingenuity. The project will collect samples that will be retrieved by a future mission to be examined on Earth.
The UAE is poised to launch its Hope Probe from Japan. It will be the first Arab mission to another planet. There are no plans to land on the planet’s surface. Instead, the probe will orbit Mars and study its atmosphere’s composition and interactions with solar wind. The project aims to establish a global map of the Martian climate across an entire Martian year (687 Earth Days), the first of its kind in human space exploration.
China’s project, Tianwen-1, is perhaps the most ambitious out of all three. If successful, it will be the first mission to drop a landing platform, deploy a rover, and send a spacecraft into Martian orbit, all at the same time. The goal of the mission will be to detect underground pockets of water that could harbour, or have harboured in the past, microbial life. It will also set China up to return to Mars in the following decade.