UAE space centre chief staying positive about Rashid rover's Moon landing

The Hakuto-R M1 spacecraft has only a 50 per cent chance of a soft landing

Salem Al Marri, director general of the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre, says his team are optimistic about the Moon landing. Pawan Singh / The National
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The UAE's space centre chief said his team was staying positive as a spacecraft prepared to land an Emirati-built rover on the lunar surface today.

A Japanese spacecraft, called Hakuto-R Mission 1, will attempt a lunar landing at 8.40pm GST, after a voyage to the Moon of almost five months, with the Rashid rover and other international payloads stored inside it.

Salem Al Marri, director general of the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre, said he was optimistic about the outcome.

“Looking at the Hakuto-R and Rashid rover, I'm definitely optimistic that we get a successful landing,” he said.

“And then, of course, there's another critical moment, which is the deployment of Rashid rover on the surface of the Moon, after checking out all the systems, turning it on and starting our operations, which will be in the next couple of days after the landing.

“Those critical moments are a little bit nerve-racking, but we have full confidence in the team.”

The Rashid rover is the first mission under the UAE's long-term Moon exploration programme. It will spend 14 days studying lunar soil, dust and geology and is expected to capture thousands of images.

But the Hakuto-R M1 spacecraft has to first achieve a soft landing, a task that only has a 50 per cent success rate.

Only the US, former Soviet Union and China have managed to complete a soft landing on the Moon before, while Israel and India had hard landings in 2019.

The Hakuto-R M1 spacecraft will initiate an hour-long landing sequence at 7.40pm. A live stream on ispace's YouTube channel will begin at 7pm.

Ispace engineers have already programmed its commands, which means the lander will adjust its position in space and reduce speed for the landing.

Lunar landings are difficult because the Moon has no atmosphere, which means engineers cannot use parachutes to land spacecraft as they do on Mars and Earth.

Instead, complex manoeuvres are required to help the spacecraft decelerate so it touches down safely.

There are also mascons, or mass concentrations, on the Moon's surface, which create gravity anomalies, and can create potential danger for a spacecraft attempting a landing.

“We've had many meetings with our Japanese partners and a lot of preparations internally as well for a successful landing,” Mr Al Marri said.

“And, of course, we'll always have high expectations and high hopes that it lands successfully.

“We do know that this is not easy for anyone and that it would be a historic first, if this lands successfully,

“So, of course, we'll stay positive. My feelings are that you know, regardless of what happens, I believe that we've succeeded already because we built a very strong team — a team that's capable of building missions that can work on the lunar surface.

“When you build a mission like that, it's not only about engineering. It's about all of the science, operations, command and control and all of those elements. We've managed to build those in-house and develop a rover built here in the UAE.”

If the Hakuto-R spacecrafts lands successfully, it would make ispace the first company to achieve a private mission to the Moon.

And once the Rashid rover is on the surface, it will make the UAE the first Arab nation to have a spacecraft on the surface of another celestial body.

Updated: April 25, 2023, 1:03 PM