UAE space centre seeks lunar lander vehicle for Rashid 2 rover

Emirati engineers are busy preparing for the country's second Moon mission

The first Rashid rover developed by MBRSC. Antonie Robertson / The National
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The Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre is on the hunt for a landing vehicle that can take its Rashid 2 rover to the Moon's surface, an Emirati space official has said.

The space centre's first Rashid rover, on the country's maiden Moon mission, crash-landed on the lunar surface last year after the soft landing planned for the vehicle carrying it failed.

Adnan Al Rais, one of the assistant directors general at MBRSC, said at a media briefing on Thursday that they were monitoring the progress of space agencies and companies working on lunar landers.

"We're looking into all options, whether from space agencies or from the private sector, and monitoring their progress as well on their first mission and their plans for follow-up missions," Mr Al Rais said in response to a question by The National.

"The team plans to complete the feasibility study by mid year. Based on that, we will know the potential landing site."

Securing a lunar landing vehicle is crucial for MBRSC because it provides the essential technology for safely delivering the rover to the surface.

Lessons learnt from first Moon mission

The first Rashid rover was launched aboard the Hakuto-r Mission 1 lander, built by ispace, a Japanese company.

It failed to touch down on the surface because of a software issue that caused it to miscalculate its altitude, and ultimately ran out of fuel moments before landing.

Dubai announces new Moon mission – Rashid rover 2

Dubai announces new Moon mission – Rashid rover 2

Despite Hakuto-R's ultimate failure, engineers who worked on the rover were able to get plenty of data during the journey to the Moon and while in lunar orbit, according to Mr Al Rais.

"We had the advantage that our first mission took four months until we reached the surface of the Moon," he said.

"So, during that phase, we collected a lot of data. We understood the performance of the mission throughout the launch cruise phase all the way to the last few metres before landing.

"All of that helped us to also work on the second model and advance our technologies."

Limited options for a lunar lander

Only the US, the former Soviet Union, China and most recently India have been able to successfully carry out a soft lunar landing, which is when the vehicle touches down gently on the surface without crashing, so its hardware and instruments stay intact.

India succeeded in placing its Vikram lander in 2023, while China has been able to place three landers on the lunar surface between 2013 to 2020.

This means China has the highest success rate of lunar landings in this modern era of space exploration.

MBRSC had signed an agreement with China's space agency in 2022 to send Rashid 2 on board its Chang'e-7 mission in 2026, but that deal is seemingly no longer valid.

Russia made a failed attempt in 2023, its first Moon mission in more than 50 years.

The US has not been back to the Moon since the last Apollo mission in 1972.

American companies are trying to reach the surface in this modern space era, with Astrobotic failing recently when its Peregrine lander suffered a fuel leak shortly after launch.

An Israeli company made a hard landing in 2019.

US-based Intuitive Machines launched its Nova-C lunar lander on Thursday and it will attempt a soft touchdown on February 22.

MBZ-Sat satellite

During the media briefing, MBRSC officials also gave updates on other projects that engineers and scientists were working on, including the MBZ-Sat satellite.

Named after President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, the satellite is expected to be the most powerful imaging satellite in the region.

The space centre secured a launch on a rideshare mission on a SpaceX rocket, with a launch expected some time this year.

Amer Al Sayegh, senior director of the space engineering department at MBRSC, said it is the biggest satellite developed in the region, weighing about one tonne.

"We've been working on it since 2020 and we've done a lot of development and effort to reach this point today," he said.

Local companies have helped to develop most of the satellite, with the space centre hoping to get the private sector involved in more missions.

KhalifaSat was the first Earth-observation satellite built in-house by Emirati engineers, and was launched in 2018 by a Japanese rocket.

Updated: March 13, 2024, 1:09 PM