The Race to Mars in 2020

Mars is our next-door neighbor, and yet. . .
we almost never visit. We sent the InSight lander in 2018, an orbiter
and lander combo in 2016, and two orbitersbefore that in 2013. Basically one or two missions every couple
of years or so. But in July of 2020, humans are launching
four separate missions to Mars. What is going on up there?Why all at once?Is there some incredible black Friday sale
going on or something?Sadly, no – no amazing TV deals are to be
had on Mars. But the July 2020 launch window does offer
great savings… on rocket fuel. The reason all these missions are launching
then is because that is the ideal time toget a craft to Mars while using the least
amount of fuel. But it’s not when the two planets are at
their closest, as you might expect. The most efficient way to send a spacecraft
to Mars is using something called a HohmannTransfer Orbit. This orbit is elliptical, and uses the sun
as one focal point. The spacecraft’s launch is at the closest
point to the sun, or perihelion, and it crossesMars’ path at its farthest point from the
sun, or aphelion. It is very important, I cannot stress this
enough, that Mars is actually there when thespacecraft arrives. No duh, right?But for that to happen the spacecraft has
to be launched at just the right time. The time it takes a spacecraft to travel from
perihelion to its aphelion in Mars’ orbitis about 259 days. During that time Mars will move about 136
degrees, since Mars is farther from the sunthan Earth and takes longer to move the same
angular distance. So in order to sync up the 180 degrees the
spacecraft will travel while Mars moves 136degrees, the spacecraft needs to launch when
Mars has a 44 degree head start. This happens for a few weeks once every 26
months, and the next time it will happen is,you guessed it, mid-July of 2020. And this time around a lot of space agencies
are geared up for launch. First up, with a scheduled launch window of
July 17th to August 5th is another Mars Roverfrom NASA, named Perseverance. The latest car-sized bot is landing with the
goal of searching for signs of microbial life,and determining if Mars’ environment was
more hospitable to it in the past. It will also collect and cache samples of
rock and regolith, and test oxygen productionin the atmosphere. The rover will also touch down with an autonomous
helicopter on board. That’s right: it’s bringing a drone to
Mars, though this one is specially made forthe thin Martian atmosphere. It will carry no scientific instruments; its
only goal is to test if this is an awesomeor dumb idea. Next on the docket is a joint mission from
the European Space Agency and Russia’s Roscosmos. The mission’s rover, provided by ESA, is
named Rosalind Franklin, after the pioneeringEnglish chemist and x-ray crystallographer
whose work was instrumental in discovery ofthe structure of DNA. She basically took a picture of the double
helix. Franklin died unrecognized for her contribution
in 1958. It’s good to see her get a nod from ESA
more than 60 years later. Rosalind Franklin will explore what scientists
think may have been an ancient ocean. Like the NASA mission, the rover will search
for signs of life past and present. It will use a camera attached to a drill to
study the soil it brings to the surface andI can’t think of a much better tribute to
Rosalind Franklin than a camera searchingfor signs of life on another world. Finally, the remaining two missions are important
milestones for two different space agencies. The United Arab Emirates will launch its Hope
orbiter sometime in July, with the goal ofstudying Mars’ fading atmosphere. If it goes as planned, the UAE will claim
the title as the first Arab nation to senda spacecraft to Mars. China is also planning to send an orbiter
and rover combo named HX-1 to Mars. This will be their second attempt, after their
first Mars orbiter was stranded in Earth’sorbit and then destroyed by our atmosphere
back in 2012. With this stellar lineup of missions, July
2020 will be an exciting time for Mars exploration. Hopefully all goes as planned, and 259 days
later we’ll have a new squad circling thered planet and kicking up regolith. Because if not, we have to wait 26 months
for another shot. And you thought waiting a year between TV
show seasons was hard. ESA and Roscosmos’s mission is launching
in 2020 after missing its original plannedwindow in 2018 due to technical setbacks. The 26-month wait has helped make this summer
one of busiest seasons of Mars launches yet. Thanks for watching. If you want more Mars videos, check out this
one I did on why the Mole on NASA’s InSightlander can’t seem to
burrow beneath Mars’ surface. Be sure subscribe, and I’ll see you next
time on Seeker.

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