The Hope probe, the United Arab Emirates’s first Mars mission, is expected to enter the red planet’s orbit on Tuesday.
The spacecraft will explore the atmosphere of the planet, something that has not been done by any previous probe to the planet.
Hope will aim to answer a number of questions, including how conditions throughout the Martian atmosphere affect rates of escape of hydrogen and oxygen – the building blocks of life.
And how the Martian exosphere (upper atmosphere) behaves at different times during the day and at different distances relative to Mars.
The instruments on board will collect different data points on the atmosphere to also gauge seasonal and daily changes.
But entering Mars’s orbit all depends on one critical upcoming operation – Mars Orbital Insertion (MOI).
Achieving MOI is a complex manoeuvre, the spacecraft is rotated to position for a deceleration burn of 27 minutes and slowed down from its cruising speed of 121,000km/h to something nearer to 18,000km/h.
The burn will start at around 1530 GMT (1930 GST).
After the gravity of Mars captures Hope it will enter a phase called the capture orbit.
The capture orbit takes the spacecraft from a distance of 1,000 to 49,380km from Mars’s planetary surface.
In this phase instrumentation will be tested and the spacecraft will, over the coming two months, transition to its science orbit.
The transition to Hope’s science orbit will be completed by April 2021.
The probe has a 20,000–43,000km elliptical science orbit and completes one orbit of the planet every 55 hours.
While it will be in daily contact with Earth during the capture orbit phase, in its science orbit contacts will take place two to three times a week. It will take six to eight hours each time for data to be downloaded and updates and instructions to be uploaded.
Sarah bint Yousef Al Amiri, minister of state for advanced technologies, chairwoman of the UAE Space Agency, said she hopes the mission will be in a position to share data by September.
She told the PA news agency: “A lot of what we’re hoping to discover from the data of this mission is new, and this is a highly complimentary mission to other missions so we truly hope that others’ missions around Mars will utilise also our data in conjunction with their data.”
The Hope mission was one of three that launched to Mars from Earth in July, including Nasa’s Perseverance rover and China’s Tianwen-1 mission.
Tianwen-1, which is expected to enter the red planet’s orbit on Wednesday, will orbit the planet and land on it.