2020 is a big year for the solar system. Three spaceships will launch to Mars in July. First the Emirates Mars Mission, then China̵
However, if they miss their tight two-week launch window, they’ll have to wait until September 2022 for another launch.
Why can we only go to Mars about every two years?
It’s all about sky mechanics.
What missions are going to Mars this month?
Three missions will go to Mars in July 2020:
Emirates Mars mission of the UAE
Starting window: July 15th to August 3rd, 2020
The first planetary science mission from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – and also the first from an Arab-Islamic country – will start from the Tanegashima Space Center in Japan. The first chance is on July 15, 2020. The Hope probe will orbit in February 2021 to investigate how the upper atmosphere of Mars is affected by the lower atmosphere.
China National Space Administration (CNSA) Huoxing-1 (HX-1)
Starting window: July 23 to early August 2020
China’s Huoxing 1 mission (translated as Mars-1) is scheduled to launch from Hainan, China, on a March 5 rocket. It will be China’s first Mars orbiter, lander and rover. As an ambitious mission, it will deploy an orbiter around Mars between February 11 and 24, 2021, and surface a rover on April 23, 2021 to explore for 90 days.
Mars 2020 from NASA
Starting window: July 30th to August 11th, 2020
Mars 2020 is scheduled to launch from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on July 30, 2020 (it should start 10 days earlier, but was delayed by NASA) and will land NASA’s rover endurance on February 18, 2021 in the Jezero crater on Mars. He will look for signs of old life and collect rock and soil samples for a possible return to Earth.
What about the ExoMars mission in Europe and Russia?
Four missions would have been on the way to Mars this month, but COVID-19 has paid for preparations for the ExoMars mission of the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Russian Space Agency (Roscosmos). It was planned to launch from Baikonur, Kazakhstan on July 26, 2020, but will now depart around September 2022 to land on Mars by May 2023.
Why are everyone going to Mars at the same time?
Celestial mechanics means that a start window is opened every 2.2 years for efficient and inexpensive journeys between Earth and Mars and vice versa. Earth takes 365 days to orbit and Mars takes slower 687 days. That is 1.88 Earth years, which brings Mars and Earth fairly close to an orbital resonance of 2: 1.
A little more than every two years, Earth catches up with Mars and the planets line up briefly. At this point they are closest to each other. Shortly before this point in time, the journey between the two planets takes the least.
What is the Hohmann Transferbahn?
Mars missions take a Hohmann transfer orbit, starting from Earth shortly before the planet catches up with Mars.
Can’t a spaceship just fly farther or faster?
It’s mostly about fuel to weight ratios. “You can start roughly every two years when Earth’s orbit’s orbit comes together because it means the closest distance and you therefore need less fuel in your spacecraft,” said Sarah Al Amiri, United States Secretary of State for Advanced Sciences and Deputy Secretary of State Project manager of the Emirates Mars Mission, too Forbes.
“Usually, spacecraft that leave Earth are made up of more than 50% fuel, which increases costs and increases complexity, so you would always start in this window every two years.”
Why does each mission have a different start window?
The start windows for the three different Mars missions in 2020 differ here and there by a few days. For example, NASA’s Mars 2020 starts a few days after the Emirates Mars mission. Why? Missile choice. “The launch window differs depending on the launch vehicle, so you usually have a day or two at both ends of this launch window,” said Al Amiri.
What happens if one of the three spaceships cannot start in the window?
In practice, all three should be fine – the start window is quite long, certainly enough to handle short periods of bad weather.
However, if for some reason this is not the case, the whole thing has to be postponed until the next semi-annual launch window opens in 2022.
This is the next “Year of Mars”.
Mars at “Opposition”
While you are waiting for the rockets to launch, here is a date for your diary: October 13, 2020, when Mars will be reached opposition. At this point it is closest to Earth, so it is the ideal time to complete half of your trip to Mars. This is how the Hohmann transfer train works.
Meanwhile opposition Mars shines brightest in our night sky. It will also rise at dawn and go down at dawn, making it the ideal time to put a telescope on our nearby neighbors, as it will look brightest and best for all of 2020 – and technically best since 2003.
Everything shows that it is always worth knowing exactly what is going on in the solar system, whether you are planning a mission to Mars or just looking at the planet.
I wish you clear skies and big eyes.