The United Arab Emirates probe, called Hope or Al Amal, successfully entered orbit around the red planet on 9 February 2021. This is the country’s first Martian mission.
In July 2020, three missions left the Earth for the fourth planet of the Solar System. The Unite Arab Emirates’ Hope on 19 July, Tianwen-1 for China on 23 July and finally the American Perseverance rover on 30 July. After a little more than six months of travel, these robotic explorers arrived at their destination and Hope started the month of February successfully under the sign of Mars.
THE UNITED ARAB EMIRATES AROUND MARS
The Emirates Mars Mission (EMM) is the first planetary exploration mission by the United Arab Emirates Space Agency, established in 2014. Dubai’s Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) was responsible for the operation. The Hope probe (Al-Amal in Arabic), a cube of almost 3 m per side without its solar panels, was developed and assembled in partnership with the Laboratory of Air and Space Physics (LASP) of the American University of Colorado, in Boulder. The UAE agency and the MBRSC emphasise that 200 of their engineers participated in the design and construction of the probe with the clear rationale of acquiring skills for the future (one of the mission’s declared objectives).
The take-off to the red planet on 19 July 2020 was entrusted to the Japanese H-IIA launcher of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. The UAE probe thus started its journey of almost 500 million kilometres from the Tanegashima centre in Japan.
9 February 2021 marked the date of arrival around Mars and more precisely the orbital insertion manoeuvre which consists in braking the probe sufficiently so that it becomes a “prisoner” of the planet’s gravity field. The main engine started as planned at 15.30 Universal Time for a period of 27 minutes. But we had to wait 12 minutes for the radio signal, confirming the beginning of this phase, to reach Earth. At the conclusion of the manoeuvre and once the transmission from Hope was received by the MBRSC Control Centre, the success of the insertion was announced.
The probe is on an orbit between 1000 and almost 50,000 km. These parameters will subsequently be modified (through activating the engine) to reach an orbit around Mars ranging from 20,000 to 43,000 km.
SCIENCE AND SOFT POWER
From this orbit, Hope will essentially study the atmosphere of Mars using its three onboard instruments, an EXI colour camera (Emirates and eXploration Imager), an EMIRS infrared spectrometer (Emirates Mars InfraRed Spectrometer) and an EMUS ultraviolet spectrometer (Emirates Mars Ultraviolet Spectrometer). The United Arab Emirates Space Agency has already announced its willingness to share the data acquired with the entire international scientific community.
Sharing scientific data in this way corresponds to the political will displayed by the United Arab Emirates to be a major stakeholder in the knowledge society. The young federal State which celebrates its fiftieth anniversary in 2021 intends to no longer be dependent in future on the oil economy and promotes science and technology as well as great ambitions for the development of the national university fabric. The space programme, and, of course, the Martian Hope mission, symbolise these choices by their full engagement.
In this regard, the arrival of the Hope probe around Mars was also a moment of “Soft Power” for the United Arab Emirates, that is, the opportunity to explain this rationale and give an image of the country which goes beyond clichés. Public announcements by the Emirates Mars Mission (EMM) thus highlight the strong part played by women in the technical and scientific teams.
It came as no surprise that the current government showed their support. Shortly after the announcement of the success of the orbital insertion, the MBRSC Control Centre received a visit from Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum (Vice-President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates) and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan (brother of the President of the United Arab Emirates and Emir of Abu Dhabi).
This visit can also be seen on video in the tweet below.
H.H. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and H.H. Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan congratulated the Hope Probe's team at Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre.#ArabsToMars #HopeProbe pic.twitter.com/zsvk7hy3aF
— Hope Mars Mission (@HopeMarsMission) February 9, 2021
The Hope probe’s mission, presented by the MBRSC as “the first weather satellite for Mars” is intended to last two terrestrial years which may be extended.