The other country was an unexpected newcomer: the United Arab Emirates. Without much experience in spaceflight, it collaborated with engineers at the University of Colorado’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics to build Hope, a spacecraft about the size of a small car.
Hope is smaller in size and ambition than Perseverance or Tianwen-1, but building it provided on-the-job training for budding Emirati engineers and scientists who worked side-by-side with their American counterparts in Boulder, Colo.
Hope entered orbit around Mars and continues looping around the planet, making measurements of the atmosphere. It has made some unexpected findings, particularly the quantity of oxygen in the upper atmosphere.
“When we were comparing it to the models, it was around 50 percent higher than were expected,” said Hessa al-Matroushi, the mission’s science lead. “So that was surprising.”
Hope’s instruments found structures in the upper atmosphere with higher concentrations of oxygen. Scientists are trying to figure out the significance of the surprise.
Another spacecraft, the ExoMars 2022 mission, a collaboration between the European Space Agency and Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, is planned for launch to Mars this year. It was originally scheduled for launch in 2020, but technical problems and the pandemic the mission was postponed. The next opportunity for launch opens in late September.
ExoMars is carrying a rover named Rosalind Franklin, which is to look for indications of past life in Oxia Planum, a 120-mile-wide plain near the equator that possesses clay-rich minerals.