The United Arab Emirates is about to join a handful of nations with an interplanetary presence, and you can watch it make history. It’s launching its Hope Mars probe today (July 19th) at 5:58PM Eastern with plans to livestream the liftoff through a dedicated YouTube channel. Coverage starts at 3PM Eastern. The mission is symbolic for the UAE, which is still relatively new to space exploration, but could also provide major insights for the scientific community as a whole.
As Space.com notes, the probe is expected to reach Mars by early 2021, and will take up an unprecedented equatorial orbit that will help it study the planet’s atmosphere over the course of a Martian year (687 days) or longer. The probe will help gauge the rate at which Mars is losing hydrogen and oxygen to space. That, in turn, could shed light on the the planet’s watery past and predict its future.
It’s a comparatively busy period for Mars missions beyond Hope. China’s Tianwen-1 orbiter, lander and rover combo is set to launch on July 23rd, while NASA has tentatively set the Perseverance rover’s blastoff for July 30th. Not that any of the countries have much choice. Windows for Mars launches usually open for a narrow period once every 26 months. If these launches miss the window, you might not hear about them again until 2022.