søndag 7. februar 2021

How China could win 2021’s space race and take Mars as its prize

Looking at its achievements over the past decade, nobody would doubt China is aiming to win the new space race. Not only has it been the only country to land on the Moon in about 40 years, and the first to soft-land on its far side, it has also planted a flag on lunar soil and brought samples back to Earth.

The race between several nations and private companies, however, is far from over. China is now approaching Mars with its Tianwen-1 mission, due to arrive on February 10. A successful insertion into orbit – the rover won’t land until May — will mark another crucial milestone for more than one reason.

Mars may be close to Earth, but it is a challenging target. Nothing demonstrates this better than the figures. Out of 49 missions up to December 2020, only about 20 have been successful. Not all these failures were attempts by newbies or early endeavors. In 2016, The European Space Agency’s Schiaparelli Mars Explorer crashed on the surface. Also, ongoing technical issues have forced ESA and its Russian partner Roscosmos to postpone its next mission, ExoMars, until 2022.

China is not the only country nearing Mars. On February 9, a UAE probe, Hope, will attempt the same insertion maneuver. It is not a direct competitor to the Chinese mission (the probe will just orbit the planet to study the martian weather), but (NASA’s Perseverance rover), set to arrive a week later, definitively is.