THREE spacecraft sent to Mars by three different nations are about to arrive at the red planet.
All were launched last summer by the US, China and the UAE – and are making their final approach after a long journey across our Solar System.
Mars pictured next to one of its two moonsCredit: Nasa
We’ve put together a helpful guide on what’s going on with each craft, and the key dates you need to know.
It’s worth keeping in mind that with all space missions, dates and times can (and often do) change.
Getting launches, landings and orbital insertions right is literally rocket science, and even small disturbances can cause major disruptions.
So don’t be surprised if not everything goes totally to plan for all three of these missions.
Nasa Perseverance – February 18
Nasa’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover will land on the Red Planet later this month.
It was blasted into space last July and should finally reach its destination on February 18.
The aim is for Perseverance to hunt for alien life on the Red Planet and hopefully take some useful geological samples.
Nasa are hoping to land Perseverance in Mars’s Jezero Crater.
The rover is just over two weeks away from its long awaited touch down.
Nasa’s Perseverance probe will touch down in a Martian crater very soon
It’s currently shooting through space after being launched aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.
Once the rover reaches Mars’ atmosphere, it will fall down to the planet’s surface before a parachute opens and places it gently in the crater.
If it all goes to plan, it should take around 7 minutes.
However, scorching hot temperatures are just one factor that could lead to issues.
The rover is currently covered in an aeroshell with a heat shield that will face into the planet and hopefully stop it from burning up.
You’ll be able to watch the rover’s mission live on February 18 at 2:15pm EST (7:15pm GMT).
Nasa’s YouTube channel will be providing the live broadcast.
Perseverance is expected to land at around 3pm EST (8pm GMT).
“Perseverance’s sophisticated science instruments will not only help in the hunt for fossilized microbial life, but also expand our knowledge of Martian geology and its past, present, and future,” said project scientist Ken Farley on Nasa’s blog.
He added: “Our science team has been busy planning how best to work with what we anticipate will be a firehose of cutting-edge data.
“That’s the kind of ‘problem’ we are looking forward to.”
This is Tianwen-1 undergoing tests in 2019 – the silver capsule at the top contains both the lander and rover, while the bottom half is the orbiterCredit: Wikimedia Commons: China Aerospace Technology Corporation
China’s Tianwen-1 – February 10
Tianwen-1 is an extremely bold mission by China that could deliver huge gains for science.
That’s because there are four different elements to the spacecraft currently making its way to Mars.
There’s an orbiter, a deployable camera, a lander and a rover.
This camera was deployed back in September during the journey to Mars, to photograph the orbiter and lander.
China launched its spacecraft on July 23, 2020 using a Long March 5 rocket.
The aim of the mission is to hunt for current and past alien life, as well as map areas of the Martian surface.
Chinese space scientists will also use the equipment to examine soil composition, the distribution of water ice, and study the Martian atmosphere.
The craft will enter Martian orbit on February 10, 2021.
But a descent of the lander and rover won’t take place until later.
The Hope orbiter will study the Martian atmosphere from aboveCredit: Emirates Mars Mission
UAE Hope Orbiter – February 9
The Hope orbiter is part of the UAE’s Emirates Mars Mission.
It launched on July 19, 2020 at around 10pm UTC.
The entire project is led by the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre.
But scientists working on the mission have collaborated with a number of other academic organisations in the US.
Credit: Emirates Mars Mission
Unlike the US and China missions, no part of the UAE Hope orbiter will touch down on the surface of Mars.
Instead it will remain in orbit around the red planet to make various measurements.
It will study the daily and seasonal cycles of weather, and how the climate of Mars is changing more generally.
The craft is expected to enter orbit on February 9, 2021.
In other space news, Four Supermoons will be gracing the night sky in 2021.
A Full Moon could be giving you a worse night’s sleep, according to a new study.
And, dead alien civilisations could be littered all over our galaxy, according to a new study.
We pay for your stories! Do you have a story for The Sun Online Tech & Science team? Email us at [email protected]