July is a big month for missions to Mars.
Three new spacecraft from NASA, China and the United Arab Emirates are due to lift off on their journey to the Red Planet.
That's because there is window between mid-July and mid-August when Earth and Mars are in a good position relative to each other to allow the shortest possible trip.
If the mission launches go as planned, the first of which is due this week, the spacecraft will arrive early next year.
They will join a slew of other orbiters, landers and rovers that are already probing the planet.
And each is tasked to look at questions that no other spacecraft has answered before as the race to find evidence of past life on Mars heats up.
The entry of China and the UAE into Mars exploration, a field that has so far been dominated by the US and Russia, will benefit future missions to the Red Planet, said Alice Gorman, a space archaeologist at Flinders University.
"The more nations entering [deep space exploration] increases the chance of success ... and builds up the library of proven engineering heritage."
Along with new science, these nations are also testing different types of technologies.
So let's take a quick look at what each mission has to offer.
NASA's Mars 2020 mission plans to put a new rover on the Red Planet called Perseverance.
If it survives the landing it will be the United States' 10th successful attempt to put a robot on Mars since 1975, and will join the Curiosity rover and Mars Insight probe.
Perseverance is the first rover ever tasked with finding evidence of past life on Mars, said Abigail Allwood, an Australian geologist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory who is in charge of PIXL, one of the seven instruments onboard the rover.
"Previous missions have been looking for evidence of water and evidence of habitability," Dr Allwood said.
"No mission has ever been given the mandate to look for evidence of life."
The rover, which looks almost identical to Curiosity except for its wheels, will descend towards Mars using the same 'seven minutes of terror' technique as its predecessor albeit using new terrain technology to help guide its landing.
All going well, it will touch down in an old lake bed known as Jezero Crater.
The rover is kitted out with several tools that will investigate the geology of the landform in minute detail, and use a drill to collect sediment samples to be returned to Earth for analysis in 2026.
The Mars 2020 mission will also be the first mission to attempt test flights of a small unmanned helicopter called Ingenuity.
The helicopter, which is strapped to the bottom of the rover, will be released once the rover lands.
"If that helicopter flight is successful it will be huge for Mars exploration," Dr Allwood said.
Swarms of small helicopters could be used to map the surface where samples come from, and a successful flight could demonstrate a capacity that can aid human missions.
"[Unmanned aerial vehicles] could be the next thing we see before any human missions," she said.
The Perseverance rover will also be doing some of the groundwork for setting up a base.
Onboard are tools that will test a method of extracting oxygen from the atmosphere (which is 96 per cent carbon dioxide), identify resources such as subsurface water and minerals, and gather more data on dust storms and weather conditions.
The mission is currently slated to launch around July 30.
China's new mission will send the first orbiter/lander/rover combo to Mars.
Called Tianwen-1 which means Heavenly Questions it is the nation's second attempt to send a mission to the Red Planet.
China's first mission, the 'Yinghuo-1' Mars orbiter, was lost in 2012 when the Russian space agency spacecraft it was piggybacking a ride on failed and crashed back to Earth.
But now, China is using its own technologies that have been successfully used in its space program, including two Moon landings.
It will use parachutes developed for its Shenzhou crewed spaceflight program, and propulsion and autonomous guidance systems and designs used in its Chang'e-3 and Chang'e-4 moon landers.
If the spacecraft reaches Mars and touches down, China will become the third country to land on the Red Planet.
It's a very ambitious goal, said Andrew Jones, a space journalist who follows the China space program.
"The failure rate for Mars missions is around 50 per cent, so to try to combine [the orbiter/lander/rover] for your first attempt at a [solo] interplanetary mission is very challenging," Mr Jones said.
US: 7 orbiters, 5 landers, 4 rovers
Russia: 2 orbiters (1 joint with EU), 1 lander
EU: 2 orbiters (1 joint with Russia)
India: 1 orbiter
US: 3 orbiters, 1 lander, 1 probe
Russia: 7 orbiters, 6 landers (including joint EU project), 1 rover, 2 probes
EU: 2 landers (including joint Russian project)
Japan: 1 orbiter
China: 1 orbiter (joint mission with Russia)
Landing on Mars is a lot more challenging than landing on the Moon.
The Red Planet has a thin atmosphere, which heats up the spacecraft but doesn't slow it down very effectively, so the timing of parachutes and rockets is critical.
Although the exact landing site of the Chinese mission has not been revealed, it is likely to be somewhere in an area known as Utopia Planitia.
"These are very low elevation areas so that gives more atmosphere to slow down the landing attempt," Mr Jones said.
The location is also good for the operation of the mission's solar powered rover.
Another potential touchdown area is Chryse Planitia, close to the landing sites of NASA'S Viking 1 and Pathfinder.
Like the new NASA mission, Tianwen-1 plans to explore the Red Planet's atmosphere, use ground-penetrating radar to peer below the surface, and look for evidence of past life.
"Having two ground penetrating radars in two different places on Mars brings a lot of science value."
But before even attempting a complex landing, the spacecraft must actually reach Mars
To do this, China is using its biggest rocket: the Long March 5. After one semi-successful flight and a failure, the rocket finally put a satellite into geostationary orbit late last year.
But the launch of the Tianwen-1 mission will be the first attempt at getting the rocket into an orbit that will put a spacecraft on a path to Mars.
"It shouldn't be that much different, but still it's something they haven't done," Mr Jones said.
While no official launch date from the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center has been announced, Mr Jones predicted it would take off around July 23.
Meanwhile, the United Arab Emirates is planning to become the first Arab nation to send a spacecraft to the planet.
If it is successful, the 'Al Amal' or 'Hope' spacecraft will join six other orbiters from the US, Europe and India currently surveying Mars from orbit.
Timed to arrive 50 years after the UAE was founded, it is also carrying the aspirations of its nation and Arab and Islamic science.
"The UAE is small compared to those other nations but they are putting so many resources into their space programs and they've made it really clear that these are priorities for them," Dr Gorman said.
About the size of a small car flanked by two solar panels, the hexagonal-shaped orbiter is on a two-year mission to explore the Red Planet's upper and lower atmosphere and weather.
Kitted out with three scientific instruments, it hopes to answer questions about why the Red Planet is losing its upper atmosphere to space, and to create a global picture of how the Martian atmosphere changes from day to day and season to season.
The spacecraft is scheduled to be launched from Tanegashima, a remote Japanese island on July 15 (AEST) according to latest reports from the UAE space agency.
Once it separates from its rocket, the spacecraft will rely on star-tracker sensors, which recognise constellations, to guide it to Mars.
All going well, the three missions will reach Mars in February next year.
The Mars 2020 mission plans to touch down on February 18, while the Chinese Tianwen-1 mission will survey the Red Planet using a high-res camera onboard the orbiter before selecting a landing site in April.
But if the missions miss the launch window, they will not be able to fly for another two years when Earth and Mars are aligned again.
NASA's Mars 2020 mission has already been delayed twice. Originally it was planned to lift off around July 17, but with a current launch date of at least July 30 it has used up half the window.
A fourth mission to Mars which was also due to lift off this month the European Union and Russian Space Agency's ExoMars mission carrying the Rosalind Franklin rover has already been postponed until 2022.
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Three space missions heading to Mars, from NASA, China and UAE - ABC News