UAE Mars mission to create history once again

Ever since the UAE rocketed its first astronaut, Hazza Al Mansoori, to the ISS (International Space Station), its hopes and aims of becoming a well recognized nation in terms of aerospace has increased manifold.  Having become only the 19th country in the world and the first Arab nation to visit the ISS last year in September, it now aims to become only the 5th country in the world and the first Arab nation to launch a fully home grown probe to Mars. Until today, only the Soviet Union, the United States of America, China, and India, have launched probes and rovers to Mars.

The mission to Mars has been named “Emirates Mars Mission (EMM)”, and the probe that will be used for the mission has been named “Hope Probe”. The launch has been scheduled for the 15th of July, 2020, at 20:51:27 UTC (12:51:27 AM UAE Time), from Tanegashima Centre, Japan, with the countdown done in Arabic for the first time in history. The mission for sure will be a moment of creating history for the UAE, but more importantly, it will benefit the world as a whole with the amount of information the probe will relay back to humans regarding the Martian atmosphere.

The information relayed back will cover major points of concern regarding Mars such as the Martian seasonal cycles, dust storms, the climate change which made Mars go from having oceans to an atmosphere being so thin that water can only be held as vapor or solid ice, and will also answer questions regarding the loss of Hydrogen and Oxygen into space over the span of one Martian year, as it provides a complete picture of the Martian atmosphere and its layers. Moreover, as a gesture of promoting value of wealthy information, the data relayed back by the probe regarding the various aspects of planet Mars will be shared with more than 200 universities and scientific research centers freely around the world.

In order to successfully be able to engineer a probe capable of entering the Mars orbit, 150 Emirati engineers, scientists, and technicians, at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre had worked on the mission along with the help of the University of Colorado at Boulder that has been designing Martian instruments since the 1960s. Moreover, the Emiratis had also received guidance from researchers at Arizona State University and the University of California. Furthermore, immense amount of time and energy has been invested in making this mission come this far, with 6 years of work put on this mission after President Sheikh Khalifa announced it in 2014. Not only is the time and energy invested for the mission a fact worthy of being mentioned, but also the fact that the budget allotted by the UAE government for the mission was very tight at only 200 million Dollars, which is significantly lower as compared to the amount NASA had spent on its Curiosity Rover that landed on Mars in August, 2012, and had cost well over 2.5 billion Dollars. 

The Hope Probe is scheduled to arrive at Mars in February, 2021, after covering a distance of approximately 493.5 million Km in 7 months time. Upon entering the Mars orbit, the Hope Probe will have to fire onboard engines for 30 minutes in order to slowdown from 1,21,000 miles per hour to 18,000 miles per hour in order to avoid crashing. This will be a very crucial stage in the mission, as too fast could lead to the Hope Probe crashing, and too slow could result in skipping the Mars atmosphere.

Furthermore, the mission had faced a number of challenges before it could reach to a stage where the Hope Probe is set to be launched. Firstly, considering the fact that Mars and Earth align only once in 2 years, the possibility of an efficient and cost effective travel between Earth and Mars narrows down significantly sue to the fact that the 2 planets are the closest to each other only once in 2 years, which is essential in order to ensure that the travel time required is the least. Keeping this in mind made the window for launching the Hope Probe very narrow and also put forward the requirement of working a lot quicker in order to have the Hope Probe ready for launching during that narrow window. Having tackled many such challenges, the mission faced one last threat of a pandemic caused by the COVID-19, due to which, the engineers had to get the spacecraft to Japan 3 weeks earlier in order to adhere to Japans quarantine rules, and also had to arrive earlier themselves in order to go through 2 weeks of quarantine themselves.

Having come this far with the mission, the UAE hopes to successfully accomplish its objectives for the mission, and also have a great celebration for its Golden Jubilee in 2021. 

By: – Mohammed Siddiq M

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