The Mars Hope Probe, the first interplanetary probe from an Arab country, arrives at the Red Planet, the first of 2021’s Martian trio.
On February 9, the Mars Hope Probe, the centerpiece of the Emirates Mars Mission, entered orbit around the Red Planet. In doing so, this vehicle became the first interplanetary spacecraft from an Arabic nation to reach another world.
This historic milestone was followed the next day by the arrival of China’s Tianwen-1 mission at Mars. This pair will also soon be joined by the Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover from NASA, arriving February 18.
“The Emirates Mars Mission (EMM) is the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) first mission to Mars. EMM is designed to orbit Mars and study the dynamics in the Martian atmosphere on a global scale, and on both [daily] and seasonal timescales,” The UAE Space Agency reports.
Lights, Camera, Martian!
As the spacecraft approached Mars, lights on public buildings and historic sites in the UAE turned red. The UAE government offered congratulations to their space engineers on a mission well-done even before the spacecraft reached its goal.
“The hairs on the back of my neck are standing up, I’ve got goose bumps. What an amazing achievement,” Fahad Al Meheiri, a senior official at the UAE Space Agency, described on Dubai One television.
This $200 million mission, called Amal in Arabic, includes a trio of instruments — a high-resolution imager and UV and infrared spectrometers.
“The Hope Probe will be the first probe to provide a complete picture of the Martian atmosphere and its layers… It will help answer key questions about the global Martian atmosphere and the loss of hydrogen and oxygen gases into space over the span of one Martian year,” the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) in the United Arab Emirates reports.
It’s Been a Long Road… Getting from Here to Mars…
Launched from the Tanegashima Space Center in Japan on July 20, 2020 aboard a Japanese H-2A rocket, Hope spent seven months traveling to our neighbor planet. On February 9, six thrusters on the craft fired for 27 minutes, slowing the vehicle down from its cruising speed of 121,000 KPH (75,000 MPH) to an orbital velocity of “just” 18,000 KPH (11,000 MPH). This maneuver cost Hope half the fuel it had stored for its entire mission — a total of around 400 kilograms (880 pounds) of propellant.
Although Mars is our next door neighbor, it is still far enough from us that it takes 11 minutes (at our current distance from each other) for radio commands to reach the Red Planet from Earth. Therefore, four days before reaching its target, Hope received instructions from Earth, preparing the robotic explorer for an automated orbital insertion.
With the arrival a success, the Hope probe is currently in an elliptical orbit for instrument deployment and testing.
The robotic explorer will then move into its planned science orbit. This wide, elliptical orbit will allow Hope to map the entirety of Mars every nine days, creating an unprecedented look at Martian weather and climate. Focusing on activity in the lower and middle layers of the Martian atmosphere, the Hope probe will provide essential details to our models of the Martian atmosphere.
“So there are several reasons that Mars was the sweet spot, the right destination for all of this to happen… But of course, for me, I am eager to begin the science part of the mission, which is the overall goal,” Sarah al Amiri, minister of advanced sciences for the UAE, states.
Mars is the Happening Place to Be…
With this success, the UAE becomes the fifth nation to reach the Red Planet. Previously, spacecraft from the United States, Russia, Europe, and India have found their way to our planetary neighbor.
On February 10, China’s Tianwen-1 arrived at Mars, and eight days later, NASA’s Perseverance rover will touch down on the Red Planet. The Perseverance rover, touching down on Mars February 18, will bring a helicopter to Mars for the first time ever.
Data from Hope will be immediately released to scientific communities around the globe. The first results should be available in September.
On its way to Mars, Hope encountered the ESA’s BepiColombo spacecraft headed to Mercury. By observing each other, the pair of robotic explorers were able to test that each of their hydrogen detectors registered the same amount of the gas, assuring instruments were acting correctly.
The UAE Space Agency has come a long way in a short amount of time. Just 15 years ago, they launched their first satellite into Earth orbit. In 2024, the agency plans to land a rover on the Moon. Unlike Hope, which was largely built in the United States, the Rashid rover will be constructed, nearly entirely, in the UAE.
The UAE, along with India and China, are currently investing large amounts of money and talent developing space programs. Leaders in the Emirates hope their nation will receive benefits from space exploration that go beyond the raw data collected.
“So it’s about the future of our economy. It’s about the post-oil economy. (UAE leadership) wanted to inspire the young generation to go into STEM and use this mission as a catalyst to cause disruptive change and shifts in multiple sectors… That’s why they went with the Mars shot,” explains Hope project manager Omran Sharaf.
This year also marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Emirates. Reaching another world, readying for the future through investments in science, seems a fitting way to celebrate a golden anniversary.
James Maynard is the founder and publisher of The Cosmic Companion. He is a New England native turned desert rat in Tucson, where he lives with his lovely wife, Nicole, and Max the Cat.
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