Thursday, May 7, 2015

UAE Unveils Its 'Hope' Mission to Mars

Shaikh Mohammed announces UAE's Mars mission plans in Dubai on Wednesday. Credit: AP

With the hopes of the country, region and Arab and Muslim worlds behind it, details of the UAE’s ambitious unmanned probe mission to Mars – driven largely by Emiratis – have been unveiled in Dubai by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid. The UAE’s Mars mission probe will be carrying the hopes of the country and the region, so it is only appropriate that Hope is its name, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid said on Wednesday. “Sheikh Zayed was the hope of the UAE and the UAE is the hope of the region,” said Sheikh Mohammed, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai. “Our generation is the hope of Arabs and Muslims, so the choice of the name for the probe is Hope.” In Arabic, it is called Al Amal. 'Hope' will leave Earth in 2020 and is expected to reach Mars by 2021, which will coincide with the UAE's 50th anniversary of the union of the emirates.

The Mohammad bin Rashed Space Center will supervise the mission. Seven teams will cover all aspects of the mission, including the probe’s design and development, supervising the design according to international standards and choosing the place of launch.

The Emirates Mars Mission team currently comprises 75 Emirati engineers and researchers and will grow to more than 150 by 2020.

Other aspects are managing the mission’s operations, communications between Mars and Earth and supervising knowledge-sharing and transfer in the UAE.

The Mars rocket will have only a brief launch window in July 2020 when Earth and Mars are at their closest.

“Earth and Mars align their orbits once every two years so we have a very short launch window,” said Omran Sharaf, the mission’s project manager. “The timeframe is a big challenge for us but we cannot waste time, we have to be ready by then. There will be no second chance.”

Preliminary design work is expected to be finished halfway through next year before the team starts building and testing the spacecraft, due to be completed before the end of 2019.

“Getting to Mars is a big challenge which requires a lot of good planning and calculative risks,” said Sarah Amiri, the mission’s deputy project manager and science lead.


The probe will be a compact spacecraft having the size and weight of a small car. It will blast off in a launcher rocket, then detach and accelerate into deep space.

To break free from Earth’s gravity, the 1,500-kilogram craft will need to reach a speed of up to 40,000kph.

After one minute, the first set of rocket boosters will detach and fall away, followed by three more rocket stages, which will fire up and drop off until the launcher releases the spacecraft on its journey.

Once the probe stops spinning, the first signals will come in to Mission Control in the UAE.

Three solar panels will then unfold and the craft will direct itself towards the Sun to charge the batteries that will power its computers, transmitters and equipment.

After reaching full speed, the probe will not need any more energy to propel itself.

Sarah Amiri, deputy project manager and science lead of the UAE mission to Mars, addresses the ceremony that unveiled the program details on Wednesday in Dubai. Credit: Kamran Jebreili / AP Photo
Sarah Amiri, deputy project manager and science lead of the UAE mission to Mars, addresses the ceremony that unveiled the program details on Wednesday in Dubai. Credit: Kamran Jebreili / AP Photo

Once it reaches Mars, Hope must use its thrusters as brakes to slow down and enter the planet’s orbit.

Because of the distance, radio signals will take between 13 and 20 minutes to reach Earth, making it impossible to control the spacecraft in real time.

Its software will have to make its own decisions to correct course without human intervention.

The engine must be fired for 30 minutes to avoid speeding past Mars.

The probe’s sensors will then turn on and start collecting data to be transmitted to Earth.

A digital camera will send back high-resolution colour images and an infrared spectrometer will examine temperature, ice, water vapour and dust in the atmosphere.

And an ultraviolet spectrometer will study the upper atmosphere and traces of oxygen and hydrogen further out into space.

The Emirates Mars Mission will send three important messages, Shaikh Mohammed said. “The first message is for the world: that Arab civilization once played a great role in contributing to human knowledge, and will play that role again; the second message is to our Arab brethren: that nothing is impossible, and that we can compete with the greatest of nations in the race for knowledge. The third message is for those who strive to reach the highest of peaks: Set no limits to your ambitions, and you can reach even to space.”

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