The UAE launched the Arab world’s first mission to the Moon on Sunday, marking a historic beginning for the country’s long-term lunar exploration programme.
The small rover is now on its way to the Moon aboard the Hakuto-R Mission 1 lander, built by Japanese lunar exploration company ispace, on a journey that is expected to last five months.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, and Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, Crown Prince of Dubai, were in the control room of the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre to watch.
"Reaching the moon is another milestone in the ambitious march of a country and a nation whose aspirations have no limits," Sheikh Mohammed said on Twitter.
"Rashid Rover is part of UAE’s ambitious space programme that started with Mars passing through the Moon and to Venus.
"Passing on knowledge, developing our capabilities, and adding a scientific footprint in human history is or goal."
The rocket blasted off into space at 11.38am UAE time from the Launch Complex 40 pad, a site operated by the US Space Force.
Ispace’s lander separates from the rocket about 35 minutes after lift-off and then begins its solo journey to the Moon.
“That was a very exciting launch. We’re very happy that it went according to plan,” Salem Al Marri, director-general of the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre, the organisation behind the rover, told The National.
“SpaceX is a great company and they’re good at what they do. Now, it’s the tough journey all the way to the Moon, but we have confidence in ispace and we hope everything goes well.”
SpaceX’s reusable Falcon 9 booster landed safely back on the company’s drone ship just eight minutes after delivering the lander to space.
Even though the launch was successful, landing on the Moon is challenging, with more than one-third of lunar landing missions failing.
Only the US, former Soviet Union and China have achieved a soft landing on the Moon. Recently, India and Israel had crash landings.
Because the Moon has no atmosphere, landers have to perform complex manoeuvres using propulsion system to be able to land softly, as well as survive debris scattered on the surface.
The National received access to the new mission control centre at the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre in Dubai, where engineers will track the lander and rover on their journey to the Moon and during their operations there.
“That five-month journey in relatively deep space with a harsh environment is also something that's difficult, but that can be monitored and you can mitigate the risk,” said Mr Al Marri.
“Landing is going to be key. You've got one shot. It’s very difficult to land on the surface of the Moon and things pretty much will happen autonomously.”
The Hakuto-R Mission 1 lander is taking a longer route to save on fuel and reduce costs and will use a gravity assist from the Sun to get closer to the Moon.
Takeshi Hakamada, founder and chief executive of ispace, told The National that he “felt confident” the mission would be a success.
“I’m very confident on this first mission because our engineers put best effort possible to mature our technology and we integrated external knowledge as well,” he said.
If the company achieves a soft landing, ispace will become the first company to carry out a successful commercial cargo to the Moon, with several government and private payloads on board.