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July 20, 2020

A new ‘Hope’: UAE launches first mission to Mars from the Arab world

By H.E. Hamad Al Mansoori, Director General of the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of the United Arab Emirates (UAE)

5, 4, 3, 2, 1… We have lift off!

A H2A202 rocket blasted off into space on 20 July 2020 as part of Emirates Mars Mission to explore the Martian atmosphere.

It launched not only the probe named ‘Hope’, but also the Emirati dream: the combined Arab ambition to literally soar high.

The take-off

The rocket was launched at 1:58 am on 20 July (UAE time) from the Tanegashima Space Centre in Japan, reaching speeds of up to 34,082 kilometers per hour. It stayed in the Earth’s orbit until it aligned with Mars, after which it was reignited to push it on a trajectory towards the red planet.

Around one hour after the launch, the probe Hope separated from the launcher. 30 minutes later, the probe sent its first signal from space to the operations room at Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre, via the Deep Space Network communications system.

The probe, Hope

The average speed of the probe during travel will be 121,000 kilometers per hour. The probe will travel 493,500,000 kilometers over 6 months to reach the orbit of Mars. By the time the probe, Hope, reaches the orbit of the red planet, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) will have entered the 50th year since its formation. When the probe eventually communicates from the orbit of Mars with the team on ground, the communication signals will be received after a delay of 13 to 26 minutes.

Hope is cubical in shape, with a weight of 1,350 kilograms including fuel. It spans 3 meters wide and 7.9 meters long when its solar panels are open.

The probe will study the Martian atmosphere from a science orbit of 20,000 km periapsis (the point which is nearest to the body that it orbits) and 43,000 km apoapsis (the high point in an orbit), with an orbital period of 55 hours and an orbital inclination of 25 degrees. No other spacecraft that was sent to Mars had such an orbit. Most spacecraft orbit at a single local time that allows the atmosphere to be measured only once in the day. However, the probe Hope will do this for the entire Martian year.

More on the Emirates Mars Mission

Emirates Mars Mission is the Arab region’s first interplanetary mission. Its objectives are to:

  • Understand climate dynamics and the global weather map by characterizing the lower atmosphere of Mars.
  • Explain how the weather changes the escape of hydrogen and oxygen by correlating lower atmosphere conditions with those of the upper atmosphere.
  • Understand the structure and variability of hydrogen and oxygen in the upper atmosphere, as well as identifying why Mars is losing them into space.

The mission will operate for two years, with a possibility of extension for two more years.

The UAE is one of the 8 countries worldwide that has space programs. The United States of America, People’s Republic of China and the UAE are the only 3 countries that are exploring Mars in 2020.

The Arab dream

The foundation for the Emirates Mars Mission was laid sometime in the early 1970s when the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the Founder President of the UAE, met the NASA team that was part of the Apollo space program. Years later, the UAE set up the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) and the UAE Space Agency. MBRSC was responsible for the execution and supervision of designing, developing and launching the probe Hope, while the UAE Space Agency is funding and supervising all procedures.

Hope was built by a team of 150 Emirati engineers in collaboration with engineers and scientists at the University of Colorado, the University of California Berkeley and Arizona State University. The team was comprised of 34 per cent women: the highest in the world for such a project. More than 66 pieces of the probe were manufactured in the UAE. The probe cost around USD 200 million, which is amongst the lowest for a project of this type.

With the Emirates Mars Mission, the UAE aims to make a mark in the field of space science.  The probe Hope also represents a beacon of hope for Arab youth by encouraging young people to explore education and career options in the field of space. The UAE aspires to lead the region and the world in exploring space for mutual benefit of humankind. As for Arab ambitions in space, today’s launch proved that not even the sky is the limit.

Photo by GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP via Getty Images

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A new 'Hope': UAE launches first mission to Mars from the Arab world

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