A new Space Race is underway, driven by private space travel companies and revitalised national space agencies, and their first port of call is Mars. A number of upcoming missions are focused on visiting the red planet for a variety of reasons, and today’s blog looks at some of the most promising missions to Mars launching by 2020.
NASA InSight Lander
NASA’s ‘Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport’ (InSight) lander will investigate Mars’s core with the goal of gaining a better understanding of what led to the formation of the Solar System’s terrestrial planets, namely Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars. The lander is fitted with a drill and seismometer for detecting potential seismic activity. The InSight lander was originally pencilled in for a March 2016 launch but a recurring malfunction forced NASA to delay the launch until May 5, 2018.
SpaceX Red Dragon
The launch and return of SpaceX’s Red Dragon is an ambitious yet critical part of the company’s recently revealed plan for the colonization of Mars. Indeed, the mission is the first step in establishing a viable method for interplanetary travel, and will see the unmanned spacecraft travel to the red planet, land, potentially collect samples using an accompanying rover before returning to Earth intact and ready for reuse. As with NASA’s InSight lander, SpaceX’s Red Dragon is scheduled to take flight some time in 2018.
ISRO Mangalyaan 2
The Mars Orbiter Mission space probe, also known as Mangalyaan, is India’s first venture into interplanetary exploration and has been orbiting the planet since September 2014. It was intended as a technology demonstrator of the design, planning and management requirements of interplanetary missions, and its success has enabled the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) to commence work on its second mission, the Mangalyaan 2. Similar to the first mission, the Mangalyaan 2 will consist of an orbiter, but may also include a lander and a rover. The ISRO is currently looking at a 2020 launch.
NASA Mars 2020
The second NASA mission on this list, the Mars 2020 mission, aims to collect a variety of samples from the Martian surface including rocks, minerals and other materials and return them to Earth for a detailed analysis of the astrobiology of Mars. The mission will utilize an as-yet-unnamed rover and the Mars Science Laboratory mission design, which successfully landed the rover Curiosity in 2012. As the name implies, the mission will be launched in 2020.
This rover is just one part of the ExoMars 2020 mission, a joint undertaking between the European Space Agency (ESA) and Russia’s Roscosmos State Corporation to search for evidence of past or present life on Mars. ESA are providing the rover while Roscosmos are supplying the lander, and the rover will search for vital clues over a six-month period.
2020 Chinese Mars Mission
Consisting of an orbiter, lander and rover, China’s National Space Science Center is planning on launching this mission in the summer of 2020. Similar to ISRO’s Mangalyaan, this mission is intended as a demonstration of the technology and resources required for a future Mars sample return mission.
Unlike the Space Race of the Cold War, which was propelled by the United States and the Soviet Union’s fierce rivalry, the modern Space Race is being propelled by a desire to learn more about our cosmic surroundings. The fact that new organizations like ISRO and China’s National Space Science Center are planning Mars missions in the coming years is a very good sign and could lead to the colonization of Mars earlier than expected.
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