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Heading for Mars IV
Mars is getting crowded. As of late May, eight probes were operating on the surface or in orbit around the Red Planet. As many as three more missions have been scheduled for launch this month. And as many as five are on the books for the next few years.
The last of this year’s launches is Tianwen-1. The Chinese mission will consist of an orbiter, a lander, and a rover. The orbiter will map the surface and the planet’s magnetic field. It’ll also use radar to peek below the surface.
The lander will touch down in Utopia Planitia — a volcanic plain with a lot of water ice just below the surface. The lander will include a weather station. It’ll also carry the rover, which will look for evidence of microscopic life.
A fourth mission scheduled for this month had to be put off until the next launch window, in 2022. Europe’s Rosalind Franklin rover also will hunt for evidence of life. And it’ll carry a radar that will probe deep below the surface.
NASA’s considering sending a pair of small satellites to Mars in 2022 as well. The Escapade mission would study the atmosphere and how it interacts with the solar wind. And a small Japanese orbiter and a rover also would study the atmosphere.
Two missions are planned for 2024. India will send its second orbiter to Mars, while Japan will send a craft to Mars’s moons. It’ll land on one of them and gather samples for return to Earth — continuing the busy exploration of Mars.