For a country that is only 50 years old, the UAE is taking giant leaps into the unknown and making its mark in the sphere of space exploration.
It made headlines around the world when it reached Mars in its maiden flight and is also building a lunar rover, among other stratospheric achievements.
The National highlights some of Emirates’ top space moments in 2021.
On February 9, the UAE’s Hope spacecraft entered the orbit of Mars.
It was became the first Arab country and the fifth space agency worldwide to reach the red planet, with only those of the US, EU, former Soviet Union and India having achieved the feat beforehand.
This major accomplishment set the tone of its space programme, especially for deep space missions and engineering capabilities.
Buildings across the country and Arab world turned red to celebrate Hope, with the faces of the engineers behind the mission projected on to Burj Khalifa.
More than 100 gigabytes of data collected by Hope has been released for public use, and the team has promised to share a new set of data every three months.
Space enthusiasts have been processing raw images captured by the spacecraft and posting them on Twitter.
Images by Hope have shown the Red Planet’s stunning features, including its shield volcanoes and rare aurora.
The data would help scientists learn more about the planet’s dynamic atmospheric conditions.
First Arab female astronaut
A few months after the Mars Hope Probe’s arrival, the UAE announced it had selected the first Arab female astronaut.
She is part of an astronaut generation that could walk on the Moon one day.
The Artemis programme by Nasa aims to send humans back to the Moon within this decade.
Mohammed Al Mulla, 33, a Dubai Police helicopter pilot, also joined the UAE’s astronaut corps.
Asteroid belt mission and Venus fly-by
This year, the UAE announced its most ambitious deep-space mission yet – to explore the Solar System’s main asteroid belt, with a Venus fly-by.
The mission, still in its concept phase, would be launched sometime in 2028 and would involve a total journey of 3.6 billion kilometres, seven times the distance travelled by the Hope probe to reach Mars in February 2021.
The spacecraft, which has not yet been named, would fly past seven asteroids and attempt a landing on the last one.
It includes a Venus and then an Earth fly-by for gravity assist manoeuvres to reach the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, known as the main asteroid belt.
Target of the Moon in 2022
Before an Emirati spacecraft heads to the main asteroid belt, the UAE plans to achieve landing on a target closer to Earth – the Moon.
The UAE government had mandated Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre to reach the Moon by 2024, but they secured a lander earlier than expected and have the flight scheduled for launch in 2022.
A tiny, 10-kilogram rover called Rashid will lift off from Florida’s Kennedy Space Centre sometime between August to December.
Space tourism is taking off and the UAE wants to be a part of it.
Blue Origin seems to be leading the way, having put eight people in space through its suborbital flights. Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin company blasted its third private crew into space and brought it back safely in December, this time including the daughter of the first American in space.
In 2019, the UAE Space Agency and Virgin Galactic – which has had one successful fully crewed flight – discussed bringing space tourism to the Emirates.
The agency and Abu Dhabi Airports signed an agreement to build a spaceport.
World’s largest space conference in Dubai
In October, the Ministry of Economy and Blue Origin agreed to develop a plan that would accelerate the ministry’s ambition for economic development through space activities, including space tourism.
That month, Dubai also hosted the world’s largest space conference.
It was the first time the International Astronautical Congress was hosted by an Arab country since its inception in 1950.
It brought more than 5,000 experts from the field to the country for the five-day event, held at Dubai World Trade Centre.
The annual event helps space agencies and private companies to explore partnership opportunities.
At this year’s conference, the UAE and Nasa held discussions on the Artemis programme.