The Emirates Mars Mission and many others to arrive at Mars in 2021

The Emirates Mars Mission is perhaps the most high profile, but far from the only mission set to arrive at the Red Planet in 2021, having launched in the window that 2020 presents.

The best opportunity for launch to Mars is a two month period that comes around once every 26 months, and it appears the 2020 window is regarded as most appealing — with NASA, Europe, China, India and SpaceX all planning to join the UAE in launching missions to Mars within the same time period.

This creates a huge headache for NASA — the only agency with the capabilities of managing this space traffic, helping each mission to avoid catastrophic collisions that would see billions of dollars effectively thrown into a black hole.

NASA must control, direct and communicate with each of the operators, ensuring that the risk of collision associated with potentially 10 spacecraft arriving at Mars in February 2021 is minimised.

The European Space Agency (ESA), NASA and China are each planning to send rovers to the surface of Mars in 2020, with ESA also planning a lander mission. India may also send a rover to accompany a confirmed orbiter — its second Mars mission. SpaceX too will send a Dragon capsule to Mars.

Emirates Mars Mission sends hope

But it is the UAE with the Emirates Mars Mission — Hope Probe that has really captured the imagination of millions. The Arab world has never before sent a mission to Mars, and for a young nation such as the UAE to accomplish such a feat so early on in its life as a nation (just 45 years ago it was formed) would be one of the greatest accomplishments of a region so often blighted by wars in the name of religion and oil — and sometimes both.

The traffic congestion around Mars though is a huge concern, and for the UAE to lose its probe because of a collision would represent huge disappointment for the young Emiratis working on the mission — and for Arabs across the world who see this probe as a beacon of hope.

Recently, Fuk Li, Director for the Mars Exploration Directorate at JPL, spoke about his concerns for the 2021 arrivals at the Red Planet.

“We are worried about orbiters colliding with one another. We worry that some of them may collide with Phobos (the Martian moon). If we get close together, or we project that they will get close together, we will alert all the missions and watch (the spacecraft) to see how they progress. Typically, we don’t have to do anything over time. The concern resolves itself. More spacecraft flying around Mars will certainly complicate things, but the bigger problem might be managing communication with all the craft.”

With as many as 10 spacecraft scheduled to reach the Red Planet in 2021, traffic could certainly be a problem. However, history tells us that just 50% of the Mars missions ever launched have made it successfully to the Red Planet. Perhaps only five of the projected ten missions will get there, and the Arab world will be praying that the Emirates Mars Mission is one of them.

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