What are the 8 active space probes around Mars?

There are now eight active probes orbiting the Red Planet. They were developed by the United States, Europe, India, the United Arab Emirates and China.

In just two days, two new probes have settled into the orbit of the planet Mars. On February 9, 2021, the United Arab Emirates successfully inserted their Hope probe, followed on February 10 by China with its Tianwen 1 probe. Eight active orbiters are now flying over the red planet, each with their mission and scientific objectives.

What are they ?

2001 Mars Odyssey

Inserted into Martian orbit on October 24, 2002, the 2001 Mars Odyssey is under the responsibility of the US Space Agency. Of all of NASA’s spacecraft orbiting Mars, the 2001 Mars Odyssey has the longest longevity.

Goal : Draw up a global map of the quantity of several chemical elements on the surface of the planet, as well as the possible presence of water. Its primary mission ended in 2004. The orbiter is still in operation.

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter

Also developed by NASA, the probe Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) entered orbit on March 10, 2006.

Goal : Look for clues to the persistence of water on the planet’s surface. Its instruments can obtain close-up photographs of Mars, with the aim of mapping its surface. MRO also allows a closer look at the subterranean ice that was spotted by 2001 Mars Odyssey.


MAVEN, for Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, has been in orbit around Mars since September 21, 2014. The orbiter is being developed by NASA.

Goal : Study the composition of the upper Martian atmosphere. In 2019, MAVEN was moved to a lower orbit, in order to be able to play the role of relay antenna for future communications with the Perseverance rover. MAVEN was scheduled to operate for 2 years, but still has enough to be active until 2030.

Artist’s impression of MAVEN. // Source: Flickr / CC / Kevin Gill (cropped image)

Mars Express

This is the very first mission launched by the European Space Agency to explore another planet in the solar system: Mars Express was inserted into Martian orbit on December 25, 2003. The name of the mission refers to the relatively short time frame for mission development, which relied on technologies already developed for the Rosetta and Mars 96 missions.

Goal : Draw a relief map of the Martian surface, locate the possible presence of water or identify traces of life on the star. This last point was to be ensured by a lander, Beagle 2, whose mission unfortunately failed (it gave no sign of activity after the separation of the orbiter).


Developed by ESA, the program ExoMars brings together two space missions: the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) and a rover called Rosalind Franklin. Only the TGO orbiter has materialized: it has been in orbit around Mars since October 19, 2016 (the Rosalind Franklin rover should be launched in 2022)

Goal : The two parts of the mission are turned towards the same goal, to discover if a form of life could ever exist on the red planet.

Mars Orbiter Mission

Mars Orbiter Mission is developed by the Indian Space Research Organization, or ISRO. The orbiter, which is the Indian space agency’s very first Martian space probe, positioned itself around Mars on September 24, 2014.

Goal : Explore Martian morphology, mineralogy and atmosphere. The orbiter is also dedicated to the search for a possible past life on Mars. Its primary mission was successfully completed in 2016 and the probe is still active.

Emirati Martian Mission

United Arab Emirates joined other powers by inserting probe into Martian orbit Al-Amal (“Hope”, hence the expression Mars Hope also used to designate the probe) February 9, 2021.

Goal : Provide a detailed view of the Martian atmosphere and its various layers. Thus, the probe could help to better understand the evolution of the atmosphere of Mars and the phenomenon of leakage of hydrogen and oxygen gas without space.

Tianwen 1

It is the latest arrival of the active Martian orbiters: the Tianwen 1 probe positioned itself around Mars on February 10, 2021. The probe is being developed by the Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA).

Goal : Study the geology of Mars, the presence of present and past water, or better understand the Martian atmosphere. The mission embeds a rover, designed to explore the Martian surface for 90 days. If it is deposited smoothly on Mars, the orbiter will act as a relay while carrying out its own scientific tasks.

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Source: Numerama by www.numerama.com.

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