UAE’s Moon mission chief 'excited but feeling the pressure,' as Rashid rover nears launch

Vehicle to attempt rare Moon crater landing later this year

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The UAE is a step closer to becoming the first Arab country to land on the Moon, with its lunar rover Rashid now in France for final testing and a launch window starting in early November.

Hamad Al Marzooqi, director of the Moon mission, told The National that he and his team are “excited but feeling the pressure”, as they try to etch the country’s name in history books.

The 10-kilogram rover will now spend a few weeks in Toulouse for vibration and thermal vacuum testing, a series of final checks to ensure it can survive the extreme environment during a rocket launch and spaceflight.

It will then be moved to Germany, so it can be integrated with a Japanese lander, called Hakuto-R Mission 1, built by private company ispace inc, which will deliver the rover to the lunar surface.

Once completed, it will be shipped to the launch site in Florida’s Kennedy Space Centre in September.

The mission will take off on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Once launched, it will take about three months to reach the Moon.

“It seems that everything is on track. The launch window has been squeezed in the past couple of weeks and the official launch date announcement will happen soon,” Dr Al Marzooqi said.

“We are just waiting to make sure everything is set from our side and ispace, but a launch window starts beginning of November.”

“We are confident about the status of the rover’s flight model and its quality. But, we do need to be cautious because anything can go wrong and we cannot afford any failure or mistakes during the coming two months."

‘Great reward' to meet President Sheikh Mohamed

President Sheikh Mohamed and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, met the team earlier this week.

Dr Al Marzooqi said the visit was a moment “where you feel like you’re being rewarded for your hard work”.

“It was a great reward for everyone to meet the president and vice president, but it also adds pressure now,” he said.

“Everyone expects a lot from this mission, and if the leadership of the country are meeting and encouraging the team throughout this mission, then we expect a lot of pressure in the coming weeks and months.

“But, we are also very excited for the mission to be successful.”

Timelapse footage shows how the UAE's lunar rover was built

Timelapse footage shows how the UAE's lunar rover was built

The Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre was given a goal by the UAE government to land on the Moon by 2024.

However, the centre was able to secure an earlier date by partnering with ispace.

Although this would be the first mission under the country’s long-term Moon exploration programme, the team will get another chance if things go awry.

“This is not the first and only mission,” said Dr Al Marzooqi.

“We are going to build multiple and more advanced rovers in the coming years, so we are not stopping here.”

So far, only the US, Russia and China have achieved a soft-landing on the Moon.

Landing in a crater

A primary and a few back-up landing sites have been selected by ispace.

The goal is to land in the Atlas crater in the Mare Frigoris site, located in the far-north of the Moon’s near side.

“It’s exciting because we are landing in a crater,” said Dr Al Marzooqi.

“There will be interesting science materials to explore, but we don't want to get attached to the landing site because anything can go wrong and then we’ll move to the backup, second or third backup site.”

Surviving the freezing-cold lunar night

The mission will last one lunar day, or 14 Earth days, and aims to study the properties of lunar soil, the petrography and geology of the Moon, dust movement and studying the lunar surface plasma condition and photoelectron sheath.

The team also hopes the rover can survive the lunar night, also 14 days, when temperatures reach -183°C.

Dr Al Marzooqi said a Nasa mission in the 1970s was somehow operational on the Moon after a lunar night, even though it was not designed to be able to survive the freezing temperatures.

He hopes the UAE’s rover would have the same luck.

“We are taking a chance on just an experimental idea,” he said.

“Just before the rover goes into hibernation for the lunar night, we will command the communication system to be powered by the solar panels.

“For two weeks, we’ll just be waiting until the sun rises again on the landing site, and then after that we’ll see how it goes.

“But, from a science point of view, we have to finish everything within the first lunar day.”

Updated: June 19, 2022, 10:38 AM