UAE’s ‘Hope’ probe enters Mars orbit in first for Arab world

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The United Arab Emirates’ “Hope” probe on Monday successfully entered Mars’ orbit, making history as the Arab world’s first interplanetary mission.

The probe is designed to reveal the secrets of Martian weather, but the UAE also wants it to serve as an inspiration for the region’s youth.

“To the people of the UAE, to the Arab and Muslim nations, we announce the succesful arrival to Mars’ orbit. Praise be to God,” said Omran Sharaf, the mission’s project manager.

Officials at mission control broke into applause, visibly relieved after a tense half-hour as the probe carried out a “burn” to slow itself enough to be pulled in by Martian gravity, in what was the most perilous stage of the journey.

Hope is the first of three spacecraft to arrive at the Red Planet this month after China and the US also launched missions in July, taking advantage of a period when the Earth and Mars are nearest.

The UAE’s venture is also timed to mark the 50th anniversary of the unification of the nation’s seven emirates.

“What you have accomplished is an honour for you, and an honour for the nation. I want to congratulate you,” said Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed after entering the control room.

The probe, named “Al-Amal”, Arabic for “Hope” rotated and fired all six of its powerful thrusters to dramatically slow its average cruising speed of 121,000 kilometres (75,000 miles) per hour to about 18,000 kph.

As the clock ticked down, Dubai’s needle-shaped Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest tower, lit up in red with blue laser lights, and erupted into a light and fountain show with news of the success.

Landmarks across the Gulf state have been illuminated in red at night and government accounts and police patrol cars emblazoned with the #ArabstoMars hashtag.

The UAE this week also projected onto the Dubai night sky images of Mars’ two moons — Phobos and Deimos — to allow residents “to see what the probe sees”.

– ‘Bigger objective’ –

While the probe is designed to provide a comprehensive image of the planet’s weather dynamics, it is also a step towards a much more ambitious goal — building a human settlement on Mars within 100 years.

And apart from cementing its status as a key regional player, the UAE also wants to engage youth in a region too often wracked by sectarian conflicts and economic crises.

“This project means a lot for the nation, for the whole region, and for the global scientific and space community,” Sharaf told AFP before the launch.

“It’s not about reaching Mars; it’s a tool for a much bigger objective. The government wanted to see a big shift in the mindset of Emirati youth… to expedite the creation of an advanced science and technology sector in the UAE.”

The wealthy Gulf state now becomes the fifth space entity to reach Mars, with the China mission due to become the sixth on Wednesday.

Only the US, India, the former Soviet Union and the European Space Agency have successfully reached the Red Planet in the past.

“As a young nation, it is a particular point of pride that we are now in a position to make a tangible contribution to humanity’s understanding of Mars,” said Sarah al-Amiri, the 34-year-old UAE minister who is one of the drivers behind the project.

“Hope” will orbit the Red planet for at least one Martian year, or 687 days, using three scientific instruments to monitor the Martian atmosphere.

It is expected to begin transmitting information back to Earth in September 2021, with the data available for scientists around the world to study.

Unlike the other two Mars ventures, China’s Tianwen-1 and the Mars 2020 Perseverance from the United States, the UAE’s probe will not land on the Red Planet.

“Dear @HopeMarsMission, congratulations on arriving at Mars!” NASA’s Perseverance Twitter account said, citing the words of the great 10th century poet Al Mutanabbi.

“If you ventured in pursuit of glory, don’t be satisfied with less than the stars.”

Explainer: how the UAE probe reached Mars’ orbit
Dubai (AFP) Feb 9, 2021 – The first Arab interplanetary mission reached Mars’ orbit Tuesday in the most critical stage of its journey to unravel the secrets of weather on the Red Planet.

The unmanned probe — named “Al-Amal”, Arabic for “Hope” — blasted off from Japan last year, the latest step in the UAE’s ambitious space programme.

Here are some facts and figures about the oil-rich nation’s project, which draws inspiration from the Middle East’s golden age of cultural and scientific achievements.

– Outsize plans –

The United Arab Emirates, made up of seven members including Dubai and Abu Dhabi, has 12 satellites in orbit, with plans to launch several more in coming years.

In September 2019, it sent the first Emirati into space, Hazza al-Mansouri, who was part of a three-member crew. They blasted off from Kazakhstan, returning home after an eight-day mission in which he became the first Arab to visit the International Space Station.

But the UAE’s ambitions go much further, with a goal of building a human settlement on Mars by 2117.

In the meantime, it plans to create a white-domed “Science City” in the deserts outside Dubai to simulate Martian conditions and develop the technology needed to colonise the planet.

The UAE has plans to launch an unmanned rover to the moon by 2024 and is also eyeing future mining projects beyond Earth, as well as space tourism.

It has signed a memorandum of understanding with Richard Branson’s space tourism company Virgin Galactic and announced the creation of a “space court” to settle commercial disputes relating to space industries.

– Hope’s journey –

The “Hope” probe lifted off from Japan’s Tanegashima Space Center on July 20 last year.

The 1,350-kilogramme (2,970-pound) probe — about the size of an SUV — took seven months to travel the 493 million kilometres (307 million miles) to Mars.

Officials say the “most critical and complex” manoeuvre was on Tuesday when the spacecraft was slowed to be captured by the gravity of the Red Planet.

The probe fired all six of its Delta-V thrusters for 27 minutes to cut its cruising speed of 121,000 kilometres (75,000 miles) per hour to about 18,000 kph.

The process consumes half of the spacecraft’s fuel, and it takes 11 minutes for a signal on its progress to reach Earth.

One loop around the planet will take 40 hours.

The “Hope” probe will remain in this phase for about two months, during which further testing will take place, until it is ready to enter the “science” orbit — when its data collection work begins.

– Study and inspire –

Unlike the other two Mars ventures also this month, the Tianwen-1 from China and Mars 2020 from the United States, the UAE’s probe will not land on the Red Planet.

Three instruments mounted on the Hope probe will provide a picture of the planet’s atmosphere throughout the Martian year — 687 days.

The first is an infrared spectrometer to measure the lower atmosphere and analyse the temperature structure.

The second is a high-resolution imager that will also provide information about ozone levels. And the third, an ultraviolet spectrometer, is to measure oxygen and hydrogen levels from a distance of up to 43,000 kilometres from the surface.

Studying the atmospheres of other planets will allow for a better understanding of the Earth’s climate, officials say, and pave the way for scientific breakthroughs.

But the project is also designed to inspire a region too often beset by turmoil, and recall its heyday of scientific advances during the Middle Ages.

“The UAE wanted to send a strong message to the Arab youth and to remind them of the past, that we used to be generators of knowledge,” Omran Sharaf, the mission’s project manager, told AFP.

The mission makes the UAE the fifth nation to ever reach Mars, and is timed to mark the 50th anniversary of the country’s unification.

Related Links
Mars News and Information at MarsDaily.com
Lunar Dreams and more


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