First Arab Mars Probe Enters Orbit

First Arab Mars Probe Enters Orbit

The United Arab Emirates’ (UAE’s) Hope probe, or Emirates Mars Mission, successfully entered orbit around Mars today after a seven month journey. The UAE turns 50 this year and the mission is intended to celebrate that anniversary and convey hope for the future. The UAE is now the fifth entity after the United States, Soviet Union/Russia, European Space Agency and India to place a spacecraft in orbit around Mars.

Launched by Japan’s H-IIA rocket on July 19, 2020 Eastern Daylight Time (July 20 local time in Japan), it is one of three Mars probes launched last year and the first to arrive.  China’s Tianwen-1 gets there tomorrow and NASA’s Perseverance next week.

Hope is the first Arab spacecraft to reach Mars.

Illustration of the UAE’s Hope spacecraft. Credit: MBRSC

The mission is the work of the UAE Space Agency and the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Center (MBRSC) and is operated from MBRSC’s Mission Control Center in Dubai.

The $200 million spacecraft was built here in the United States by the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) at the University of Colorado Boulder. LASP, Arizona State University and the University of California at Berkeley had roles in building its scientific instruments.

The UAE provided live coverage of Hope’s arrival in English on the Dubai One television channel and in Arabic on other outlets.

Her Excellency Sarah bint Yousef Al Amiri, Emirati Minister of State for Advanced Sciences and chair of the UAE Space Agency, who is also the Deputy Project Manager for Hope, provided updates to a socially-distanced crowd near Burj Khalifa in central Dubai, the tallest structure in the world.

Images of the people involved in Hope and its journey from Earth to Mars were projected onto the spire.

Any mission to Mars entails risks and tensions were high as mission control at MBRSC monitored the 27-minute braking sequence with an 11 minute time delay.  NASA’s Deep Space Network antenna near Madrid, Spain relayed the signals.

Finally, the news was what everyone wanted to hear.  Orbit achieved.

Conceived and built in just six years, the 1,350 kilogram (2,980 pound) spacecraft carries three instruments to give the most complete picture of Mars’ atmosphere and weather.

  • EMIRS: Emirates Mars Infrared Spectrometer
  • EXI: Emirates Exploration Imager
  • EMUS: Emirates Mars Ultraviolet Spectrometer

EXI and EMUS were developed at LASP in partnership with MBRSC engineers.  The Space Sciences Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley also contributed to EMUS.  EMIRS was developed by Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University.

LASP’s Bruce Jakosky, Principal Investigator for NASA’s MAVEN mission that has been in orbit around Mars since 2014, told Dubai One today that he is looking forward to integrating the Hope data with that from MAVEN and other probes to better understand Mars’ climate and atmosphere. He worked with MBRSC engineers and praised not only their passion, but that of the senior leaders in the UAE to not only build the spacecraft, but “elevate the Arab world scientifically” and support the youth of the country.

Indeed, the mission is not just about science.  The UAE space agency lists six objectives, including “to inspire future Arab generations to pursue space science” and  “to establish the UAE’s position as a beacon of progress in the region.”  The average age of Emirati scientists and engineers working on the mission is 27.

The UAE’s first astronaut, Hazza Ali Almansoori, visited the International Space Station in 2019 aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft.  His flight and Hope are steps in the UAE’s 100-year National Space Strategy to send astronauts to Mars by 2117 and build a Mars Science City there “to address the challenges of food, water and energy security on Earth.”

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