Ibrahim Al Qasim, deputy director-general of the UAE Space Agency, on Tuesday said that it has passed the mission concept review, though a name for the mission has yet to be finalised. These details will be announced to the public “soon".
Last year, the UAE announced its next space endeavour, only months after its Hope spacecraft reached the orbit around Mars in a historic feat.
The country hopes to explore seven space rocks in the main asteroid belt and attempt a landing on the last one. The spacecraft would slingshot around Venus and then Earth using the planets’ gravity to reach the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.
“The MCR [mission concept review] was completed a few weeks ago, so we now know exactly what our project is,” said Mr Al Qasim, on the first day of the World Government Summit.
“We are launching in 2028 and we’re heading to Venus for a fly-by, then coming back to Earth, flying past Mars and then into the asteroid belt.
“We’ve identified the seven asteroids that we are visiting and the final one, which we will be landing on. The science objectives have also been set.”
This will be the UAE’s most challenging space mission yet, with a total journey distance of 3.6 billion kilometres — seven times the distance the Hope probe travelled to reach Mars in February 2021.
Through the project, the space agency hopes to boost the private space sector in the UAE.
Start-ups and established companies will build about 50 per cent of the spacecraft, helping the national economy.
For decades, space programmes were government-run, but now the private sector has become a major player.
Governments are looking to private companies to increase capabilities, for example, the US space agency Nasa is now launching its astronauts into space using SpaceX rockets.
Also at the government summit, the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre displayed its Moon rover Rashid.
The space centre has bought services from Japanese private company ispace to deliver the rover to the lunar surface using their lander.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will carry the mission to space later this year from Florida’s Kennedy Space Centre.
The tiny 10kg rover is undergoing checks, including test drives on the sand dunes of UAE deserts.
The four-wheeled rover can climb over obstacles up to 10 centimetres tall and descend a 20° slope, at speeds of 10cm per second.
Rashid will explore the near side of the Moon, which offers a smoother surface with fewer craters, but the terrain is still unpredictable.
It will land on a site known as the Lacus Somniorum, a Latin phrase that translates to “lake of dreams".