February will be a big month for space fans and those interested in the exploration of Mars. Way back in July 2020, spacecraft from three different nations left the Earth for the seven-month journey to Mars. The spacecraft includes the NASA Perseverance Rover, China’s Tianwen-1, and the United Arab Emirates’ Hope.
The main goal of all missions is to learn more about Mars and hopefully find evidence of ancient life on the Red Planet. The only one of the trio spacecraft that will land on the surface of Mars this month is Perseverance. The other two spacecraft will orbit the Red Planet. The expected arrival date of Perseverance on the surface of the planet is February 18.
NASA has a very long history of landing spacecraft on the surface of Mars. NASA’s Curiosity rover has been operating on the surface of Mars for nine years. Hope is expected to perform its Martian orbital insertion maneuver on February 9, with Tianwen-1 performing its orbital insertion on February 10. Hope will stay in orbit to analyze the atmosphere of Mars.
China’s Tianwen-1 spacecraft does have a lander and rover, but they aren’t expected to make the trip to the surface of Mars until sometime in May. Merely getting spacecraft to Mars is a big undertaking. The orbits of Earth And Mars lineup every 26 months allowing space agencies to leverage something known as the Hoffmann transfer orbit. When a spacecraft is launched during that time, it requires less fuel to make the trip.
July 2020 was when Earth and Mars lined up, and Hope was launched on July 19, 2020, Tianwen-1 launched in July 22, 2020, and Perseverance launched on July 30, 2020. Many of the procedures performed by the spacecraft to enter orbit are autonomous because it takes 13-minutes for signals to make the trip from Mars to Earth.