Space Science Events for 2020: Focus on Mars

NASA will launch its Mars 2020 rover, the aim of which is to collect rock samples for the first time. The plan is to do this in July 2020. The trip to the red planet is estimated to take 7 months and, once landed on the Martian surface, the rover is hoping to collect multiple samples of dirt, rock, and air. It may be years before another spacecraft flies these samples to Earth. Nonetheless, it’s humanity's first attempt to bring back a part of the red planet. The American Mars 2020 rover will also carry the Mars Helicopter Scout, which will be the first aircraft to fly on another planet.

Other than NASA, China is planning to send its first lander to Mars: Huoxing-1. This lander will deploy a small rover on the red planet. The aim of this mission is to probe the Mars ground with radar, perform chemical analyses on the soil, and look for clues of current and past life. The Russian space agency, Roscosmos, and the European Space Agency, ESA, have partnered in a joint program called ExoMars, short for Exobiology on Mars. The goals of this program are to search for signs of past life on Mars and to investigate the atmosphere on the red planet. Launched in 2016, the first part of ExoMars placed the Trace Gas Orbiter into the Mars orbit. The second part of the program is planned to launch in the Summer of 2020, when the Kazachok lander will aim to deliver the Rosalind Franklin rover on the Mars surface.

Finally, as a world first, the United Arab Emirates will send the Hope probe to Mars some time this Summer, as well. The Hope probe will actually lift off from Japan and, once orbiting Mars, a goal of the mission includes understanding the changing Martian atmosphere.

Space exploration is focused on Mars this year. All these missions are in preparation for human missions to follow sometime this new decade. The search for biosignatures on Mars is motivating several nations. If all the above launches are successful, it would mark the first time that Mars has ever hosted three operational rovers searching for signs of life. This year is promising to be one of the most exciting years for space exploration. To sum it up, 2020 looks to be focusing on Mars as three landers plan to make it to the red planet.