Three separate countries – the United States, China and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – are all launching missions to Mars within the next few weeks.

All the missions are unmanned but they will all lay the groundwork for humans one day setting foot on the Red Planet.

Each craft will have to travel over 300 million miles to reach Mars and will likely arrive sometime next February. But there’s a reason that all the countries are launching their missions so close together.

The orbits of Mars and Earth align on the same side of the sun once every 26 months – and only for a period of one month. When it comes to cutting travel time and fuel costs between the two worlds, this one-month window is what you’re aiming for.

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The United States and China will be aiming to put rovers on the Martian surface while the UAE is planning to put an orbiter high above to measure weather conditions on Mars.

So far, only the United States has been able to successfully land craft on Mars although Europe and India have also managed to put orbiters in place around the planet.

The UAE’s craft is called Amal – Arabic for ‘hope’ – and is the biggest space project yet for the nation.

‘The UAE wanted to send a very strong message to the Arab youth,’ project manager Omran Sharaf told the AP news agency.

‘The message here is that if the UAE can reach Mars in less than 50 years, then you can do much more. … The nice thing about space, it sets the standards really high.’

The UAE’s launch is scheduled to take place on July 15 from Japan, while China is planning its launch for around July 23. Finally, the Americans will launch their mission to Mars from Cape Canaveral on July 30.

Whether or not these missions are successful is entirely another matter – getting a spaceship to Mars isn’t easy.

The European Space Agency tried to land a British-made probe, Beagle 2, on Mars back in 2003. It failed.