UAE’s lunar mission manager prepares for 'risky' Rashid rover landing

More than half of Moon-landing missions fail, but Hamad Al Marzooqi is optimistic

The live-streamed launch of the UAE’s Rashid rover. Photo: Screengrab
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If the Rashid rover fails to land on the Moon it will not spell the end of the UAE's ambitions to explore its surface, insists the man in charge of the mission.

Emirates Lunar Misson manager Hamad Al Marzooqi said that Emirati engineers at the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre have gained valuable experience throughout the expedition, which can be used in the country's long-term Moon exploration programme.

Lunar landings are a difficult feat to achieve, with more than half failing.

The Rashid rover is en route to the Moon on the Hakuto-R Mission 1 lander, a spacecraft built by Japan's ispace, which is also the company's maiden mission.

The lander will attempt to land at the Atlas Crater region at the end of next month. However, three backup sites have also been selected as a precaution.

Dr Al Marzooqi was speaking during a panel session held at the SpaceOps conference in Dubai on Wednesday.

"Developing that mission, designing it from scratch, testing and now preparing for operations — all of this know-how that the team gained is a success," he said.

"It's a risky business, but again, it's not the end. At MBRSC, we have plans for what's next.

"If we can call it a trial, yes, maybe it's a trial. But, again, we will have a second and third."

Spacecraft that are touching down on Earth or Mars, for example, can deploy parachutes to slow themselves down and land safely.

But the Moon does not have an atmosphere, so complex manoeuvres are required to reduce the speed of the lander to land softly on the surface.

Only the US, the former Soviet Union and China have achieved soft landings on the lunar surface.

Most recently, landers operated by India and Israel crashed on the surface.

The Hakuto-R Mission 1 lander, with the Rashid rover safely stored inside, has travelled more than 1.5 million km since launching into space on December 11.

It is travelling on a low-energy transfer route to the Moon, which means it used a gravity assist from the Sun and the Earth to get closer to the lunar orbit.

"Our Hakuto-R M1 lander is currently orbiting the Earth at a distance of approximately 580,000km," said Tiago Monteiro Padovan, spaceflight dynamics engineer.

"In the coming weeks, it will transition to a lunar orbit where a series of manoeuvres targeting landing will be performed."

Ispace has taken over the difficult part of the mission by developing a lander that would help achieve the complicated process of a lunar landing.

This allows scientists and engineers to focus on the science objectives during the mission.

Rashid rover will show children 'we can do anything'

Rashid rover will show children 'we can do anything'

For the UAE, this means that Emirati engineers can study the properties of lunar soil, the petrography and geology of the Moon, dust movement and surface plasma conditions and the Moon's photoelectron sheath.

Lunar dust, or regolith, is one of the main challenges astronauts face on the Moon.

It was during the Apollo missions that scientists learnt how lunar dust stuck to spacesuits, causing erosion and operational problems.

With space agencies determined to send humans to the Moon again, razor-sharp lunar dust particles remain a concern as they stick to nearly everything.

Different materials have been attached beneath the Rashid rover's wheels that will help scientists study how they react to lunar dust.

This could help them create astronaut suits for future missions.

Dr Al Marzooqi said they have already started working on Rashid 2, the country's second lunar rover that will be launched on a Chinese rocket in 2026.

China will help to launch the rover on its Chang’e-7 lunar south pole mission.

Updated: March 08, 2023, 3:08 PM