UAE launches first Arab mission to Mars
Image credit: Mitsubishi Heavy Industries/Handout via REUTERS
The UAE has successfully launched the first Arab mission to another planet. The Hope Probe will orbit Mars for more than two years and beam back data about the Martian atmosphere.
The probe was launched from Japan’s Tanegashima Space Center, in the early hours of Monday morning. The launch was initially scheduled for July, but has been delayed twice due to unsuitable weather conditions.
An hour after launch, the probe separated from its Mitsubishi H-IIA rocket. It then deployed solar panels to power its systems, and established radio communication with Earth.
“Years of hard work and dedication have paid off in a big way. This is a huge accomplishment, but it’s just the beginning,” said UAE Ambassador to the US, Yousef Al Otaiba, during a virtual launch party. “It’s hard to put the words together but honestly, watching that take-off, knowing how hard it was, knowing how challenging it was, witnessing that success made me feel immense pride.”
The spacecraft will now undertake a months-long journey to Mars, which it is expected to reach in February 2021. This will coincide approximately with the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the UAE.
The $200m Emirates Mars Mission was announced in July 2014 by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum. Al Maktoum said that the mission was a inspiration, and a reminder to the world that Arab civilisation had historically played a great role in contributing to scientific knowledge and would do so again.
The Hope Probe was built at the cost of $200m by Emiratis, Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre, and some US-based partners who provided niche scientific expertise. The Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre will supervise the probe throughout its mission.
For almost two Earth years, the Hope Probe will observe the Martian atmosphere from an equatorial orbit with an imager and two spectrometers. Scientists hope to understand the extreme climate changes observed on Mars, unusual Martian weather events, and why its atmosphere appears to be seeping into space. Mission data will be shared openly with more than 200 research institutions around the world.
It is also hoped that the mission will enhance the UAE’s knowledge economy, as the Gulf States prepare to pivot away from their oil-based economies and towards knowledge-based economies.
The UAE has very long-term plans for establishing a settlement on Mars by 2117. In the meantime, its space agency will build a 'Mars Science City' which mimics Martian conditions, in which scientists will study the feasibility of producing food, water, power, and other essentials.
There are eight active Mars missions. Both the US and China have scheduled new mission launches later this month: Perseverance and Tianwen-1. Both missions will examine the Martian surface at different locations and search for evidence of current and ancient life on the red planet.
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