Date: September 14, 2018
By: Ed Oswald
SpaceX founder Elon Musk says travel to Mars is within reach, with a goal to have one million people living on Mars within 100 years. SpaceX isn’t alone in working toward reaching Mars, however. In fact, there are quite a number of missions, both manned and unmanned, that currently planned or under proposal from government space organizations and private space flight companies across the globe.
Exploration of Mars and eventual human travel to it are nothing new. While manned missions have remained financial and logistical near-impossibilities, unmanned missions began in 1960. There have been 56 Mars missions so far, of which 26 have been successful — a testament to the difficulty in reaching the Red Planet.
As it stands right now, there is one rover currently operational, with another enroute to arrive late this year (as of the writing of this story, Opportunity is stuck in a massive dust storm with low chances for survival). Orbiting Mars are six satellites, providing massive amounts of data on our dusty neighbor.
It doesn’t end there either. Many more missions are planned for the 2020, 2022, and 2024 launch windows, and there are proposals to put humans on Mars by the 2030s.
Operational and En Route Missions
This portion of the list includes the world’s most notable past missions, most of which are still in operation.
|Mars Odyssey – 2001|
Named after the iconic sci-fi novel and film 2001: A Space Odyssey, Mars Odyssey is a NASA orbital satellite that is currently about 2,400 miles above Mars’ surface. It launched on April 7, 2001, and holds the record as the longest-operating spacecraft orbiting Mars. Mars Odyssey’s mission was to find proof of past or present water on Mars, using spectrometers and a thermal imager to map out the distribution of water, which was successfully proven on July 21, 2008, by the Phoenix lander. Mars Odyssey also serves as a communications relay between Earth and Martian rovers, the Mars Science Lab, and the Phoenix lander. It is projected to remain in operation until 2025.
|Mars Express – 2003|
|Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter – 2005|
|Curiosity Rover -2011|
|Mangalyaan (Mars Orbiter Mission) – 2013|
|MAVEN – 2013|
|ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter – 2016|
|InSight Lander – 2018|
Launched in May 2018 and due to arrive at Mars in November, the InSight Lander, short for ‘Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport,’ aims to study the core of Mars and observe any possible seismic activity on the planet’s surface. It is hoped through the data collected will lead to better understanding of how rocky planets such as Earth, Mars, Venus, and Mercury are formed. The current plans are for a two month deployment phase upon landing, followed by nearly two years of observations as part of the initial mission.
Thanks to a ‘launch window’ (when Mars is closer to the Earth enabling shorter trips) and a bit of coincidence, there are quite a few Mars mission launches in the Summer of 2020. While we’ll start here, these are by no means the only ones. There are no less than seven already confirmed missions through 2024, and at least a dozen more through the mid 2040s.
For the purposes of brevity we’ll focus on the confirmed missions here in depth, but we’ll also talk about the proposed missions later on.
|Hope Mars Mission – 2020|
Hope is a notable mission for one big reason: it marks the first Mars probe launched by any Arab or Muslim country. Announced by Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the United Arab Emirates, Hope aims to study the Martian atmosphere and discover why the planet has lost its atmosphere. The findings are also expected to help scientists better model our own atmosphere going back some one million years. The UAE is currently targeting a July 2020 launch.
|Mars 2020 Rover – 2020 – future mars missions mission 2020 rover More|
This upcoming NASA mission aims to study Martian astrobiology in an attempt to understand what environmental conditions may have been like on Mars in the past via a Martian sample return (or MSR). The objective would be to have the rover collect samples of rocks, minerals, and other materials on Mars and return them to Earth in a later mission. The launch window is currently set for July 2020.
|ExoMars Rover – 2020|
This rover comprises one part of the joint ESA-Roscosmos ExoMars 2020 mission, which aims to search for evidence of past or present life on Mars over the course of its six-month operation. ESA will provide the rover, while Roscosmos will supply the lander. The launch window was moved from 2018 to July 2020 due to production delays, but is now on track to meet its current launch date.
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