UAE plans to launch mission to Mars in 2021

The UAE will establish a space agency that aims to send an unmanned mission to Mars, led by Emiratis.

The UAE Space Agency will be responsible for supervising and organising all activities relating to the mission to Mars. AP Photo/NASA

ABU DHABI // The UAE plans to set up a space agency and send the Arab world's first mission to Mars – headed by Emiratis – by 2021.

“The UAE Mars probe represents the Islamic world’s entry into the era of space exploration,” said Sheikh Khalifa, the President.

"We will prove that we are capable of delivering new scientific contributions to humanity.

“The UAE’s purpose is to build Emirati technical and intellectual capabilities in aerospace and space exploration, and to enter the space industry, making use of space technology in a way that enhances the country’s development plans.”

The unmanned probe will travel more than 60 million kilometres in nine months and will be launched to coincide with the UAE’s 50th anniversary.

The Cabinet, to whom the agency will report, said the programme would also further diversify the country’s economy away from reliance on hydrocarbons, and increase local talent in aerospace.

Emirati investments in space technology have already exceeded Dh20 billion.

Those investments include TV broadcast company Al Yah Satellite, mobile satellite company Thuraya Satellite Telecommunications, and Dubai Sat, whose second satellite was launched in November last year.

“Despite all the tensions and the conflicts across the Middle East, we have proved today how positive a contribution the Arab people can make to humanity through great achievements, given the right circumstances and ingredients,” said Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai.

“Our region is a region of civilisation. Our destiny is, once again, to explore, to create, to build and to civilise.

“We chose the epic challenge of reaching Mars because epic challenges inspire and motivate us.

“The moment we stop taking on such challenges is the moment we stop moving forward.”

India, one of the handful of countries with ambitions for Mars, says its Mars Orbiter spacecraft is due to reach its target in late September, all going well.

Bas Lansdorp, chief executive of Mars One, applauded the UAE’s announcement, saying the more countries involved, the better. His non-profit agency aims to establish a permanent colony on the Red Planet by 2025.

“The more people that work on getting technology and humans to Mars, the better it is for all of us,” Mr Lansdorp said. “For any Mars mission, it is extremely important to work on a mission that has as little complexity as possible.

“Space exploration is something the whole world is involved in and we want it to be mankind’s space mission to Mars, not just a specific country’s journey.

“So having another nation onboard is a great contribution to our next giant leap for mankind.”

Sheikh Mohammed said the space agency would be responsible for supervising and organising, developing the sector and ensuring knowledge transfer.

It would enhance the UAE’s position as a global player in aerospace and maximise the contribution of space industries to the national economy.

“We aim for the UAE to be among the top countries in aerospace by 2021,” Sheikh Khalifa said. “We have a great belief in the talents of our young people and the strongest determination, the greatest ambitions and a clear plan to reach our targets.”

Matthew Cochran, chairman of the Defence Services Marketing Council, said the move would provide an use for laser focus in research and development programmes in the UAE.

“The decision will lead the nation into a visionary period for decades ahead that will encourage more Emiratis to become part of the global solution that the entire planet is searching for beyond Earth,” Mr Cochran said.

“Job creation and sustainability will follow as it has in the aerospace sector already. If anyone questions where the space industry ‘centre of now’ is, they have a new sign postmarked ‘Made in the UAE’.”

Homaid Al Shemmari, chief executive at Mubadala Aerospace and Engineering, said the announcement was a reflection and culmination of what the UAE had achieved so far, and a realisation of the vast amount of potential to be explored.

“Our country has made significant investments in space technology,” Mr Al Shemmari said. “Through entities such as Mubadala, it has taken an active role in developing the sector, ensuring knowledge transfer and establishing the UAE as a global player in the aerospace industry.”

Masood Mahmoud, chief executive at Yahsat, said it was a giant leap forward for the UAE’s space industry.

“In less than a decade, the UAE has established itself as not only a regional force in satellite innovation but a truly global player,” Mr Mahmoud said.

“The UAE is proud to be one of the few countries in the world today that has operational expertise in multiple sectors ranging from mobile satellite communications, and fixed satellite communications.

“This historic announcement will also play a significant role in the country’s GDP growth, the grooming of local talent and increased job creation in the ICT sector.”

Mikolaj Zielinski, a Dubai resident who is a candidate for the Mars One mission waiting for the next stage of the selection process, expressed his excitement.

“Currently, in the second phase of selection, there are over 700 candidates who will undergo rigorous testing and screening processes over the coming years,” Mr Zielinski said.

“Some candidates are very strong and it’s not easy to get here. The next level will be even harder and more challenging but, whatever happens, I will be happy.”

The final selection of 24 people will receive seven years of training, after which only four will be chosen to go to Mars.

“If I am selected, then real training will start and I will develop lots of skills,” Mr Zielinski said. “Psychologists are looking for certain profiles, people who can work in a small team, small place for a long time and under pressure with problem-solving abilities.

“This is something you are born with. You can’t train into it but they can then teach you how to survive in space, navigate and pilot the mission.”

The industry is estimated to be worth about US$300 million globally and growing by about 8 per cent each year.