The moment of truth has come for the flotilla of a spacecraft that was sent to Mars last July. This Tuesday (9th) the Al-Amal spacecraft (Esperança, in Arabic) will perform its maneuver to enter orbit around Mars.
It is the first interplanetary mission in the United Arab Emirates in which American universities are significantly involved. The maneuver begins at 12:14 p.m. (Brazilian time) and involves activating the propellers continuously for 27 minutes to slow the ship down and use Mars’ gravity to trap it in orbit.
When this works, the probe will spin around Mars every 40 hours, swinging the altitude between 1,000 and 50,000 km. Subsequent adjustments bring the spaceship into its orbit of scientific observation, less eccentric and slower (55 hours).
Everything has to be done automatically, as the current distance between Earth and Mars (approx. 186 million km) creates a delay of approx. 10 minutes for the transmission of radio signals from one planet to another.
Success will launch a two-year mission that will study the Martian climate and make the UAE the fifth unit to enter Mars orbit, after Americans, Russians (still in Soviet times), Europeans and Indians.
In a virtual technical draw, the sixth unit to conquer the red planet can come directly afterwards. On Wednesday (10 am) it will be the turn of the Chinese Tianwen-1 Mission (something like “heavenly questions” in Mandarin).
China’s design is more daring and includes an orbiter, landing module, and rover. However, the initial maneuver of the fourth probe is similar to that of the Al-Amal probe and only involves braking for orbital insertion.
Once set up in orbit, it will do a full mapping of the Martian surface, particularly the Utopia Planitia region, where the landing module is expected to descend in May (the Chinese are playing hard as ever to reveal details). .
The descent system will be similar to that used by NASA with the Spirit and Opportunity Rovers in 2004: entry with a parachute, followed by inflating airbags, allowing the module to bounce off the surface until it stops. Then they deflate, the ground station opens and the rover goes down a ramp – if all goes well, which is not guaranteed, as this is the first time the Chinese have made such an attempt.
The emotions of the challenge for Mars end next Thursday (18) with the arrival of the American rover Perseverance, accompanied by the mini helicopter Ingenuity, which does not even stop in orbit and goes straight “hot” to an entrance in the Martian atmosphere and a Landing at Jezero crater to look for past life signs on the red planet.
Since space exploration began, the success rate of Mars missions has been around 50%. However, over time, that percentage has increased significantly. But that doesn’t mean it’s a dominated challenge. We’ll see in two more weeks how many of these missions are still operational by then.
This column is published in Folha Corrida on Mondays.
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