The first deep-space mission from the United Arab Emirates has reached its destination: Mars. After a journey of seven months and almost 500 million kilometers (310 million miles), Hope (Al Amal in Arabic) has arrived at the Red Planet at 10:57 EST (15:57 GMT) on Tuesday 9th February 2021.
The orbiter was built by the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre together with the University of Colorado Boulder, Arizona State University, and the University of California, Berkeley. It is expected to provide round-the-clock weather mapping of Mars, data that will be shared with scientists at 200 universities across the world.
The science team has put down three crucial objectives for the Emirates Mars Mission: Understanding how the climate of the planet changes; mapping the global weather, in particular how the weather contributes to the loss of oxygen and hydrogen from the lower atmosphere; and working out how these elements behave in the upper atmosphere and why Mars is losing them into space.
Hope is expected to provide important new insights and deliver a complete picture of the atmosphere of Mars, and how its geological features play a role in it. Mars has the tallest mountain in the solar system, Olympus Mons, and one of the biggest rift valleys, Valles Marineris.
We know these features affect the climate. For example, a long, thin cloud appears regularly over Arsia Mons volcano, which is over 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) high. Clearly, these peaks and valleys have to be taken into account.
The spacecraft is going to be on an elliptical orbit, taking it as close as 20,000 kilometers to the planet and as far away as 43,000 kilometers (12,427 and 26,718 miles respectively). It will take Hope 55 hours to go around the planet once. The scientific mission is expected to start in September 2021, and the mission team will use these months to test each and every instrument on board to make sure they are all working fine.
Hope is just the first of three missions arriving at Mars this month. Tomorrow, China’s Tianwen-1 mission is also expected to launch. This is a triple-combo of an orbiter, lander, and rover mission and will be the first Chinese mission to land on Mars. The landing is not expected until May.
And next week, we’ll have NASA’s Mars 2020 mission, which includes the rover Perseverance and the Martian helicopter Ingenuity, the first flying vehicle to be sent to another world. The landing, in this case, will happen on the day – so mark the calendar for February 18.