The Hope probe will reach Mars on February 9, 2021, the UAE's Prime Minister has revealed.
On Sunday, the spacecraft made its final course modification and is hurtling towards the Red Planet as planned.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, also Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, said it should arrive at precisely 7.42pm on that date.
“Even before reaching its orbit, the Emirates Mars Mission’s Hope probe has succeeded in instilling a new culture in the hearts and minds of this nation’s men and women – a culture that prioritises science in shaping our future and reiterates our nation’s limitless ambitions after successfully entering space,” said Sheikh Mohammed.
“We have become the first Arab country to succeed in exploring a planet, and our nation joins an exclusive group of only seven countries that have explored Mars.”
The probe was launched from Japan's Tanegashima Island 111 days ago and has travelled 290 million kilometres since then.
It is travelling at a speed of 94,831 kilometres per hour and has less than 189 million km remaining.
Sheikh Hamdan, Crown Prince of Dubai, said the dream of such a mission began in 1971.
“It also marks the beginning of another 50 years that will bring about major achievements based in the fields of science, knowledge and innovation," he said.
"Our nation does not have the word impossible in its dictionary and our leadership will not settle for anything less than the first place.”
Once it reaches the Red Planet, the spacecraft will spend two years studying Mars’ atmospheric conditions using its three scientific instruments.
The journey so far
Sixty per cent of the journey has been completed and the team are now monitoring the spacecraft around the clock as it nears orbit.
The third course correction manoeuvre was an important milestone, as the orbiter gets closer to Mars’ unstable atmosphere.
It involved firing its thrusters and re-positioning itself to stay on track. There were seven manoeveurs in total, but the spacecraft’s efficiency has reduced the number of path corrections needed.
Several layers of protection has shielded the spacecraft from the dangers of space during its travel, including solar radiation.
However, the space environment gets more unpredictable as it approaches the Red Planet.
The ground control team keeps track of whether the gravitation of Mars or other planets in the solar system could affect the spacecraft.
Also, Mars’ atmosphere is much thinner than Earth, therefore, more vulnerable to solar radiation.
"We have different layers of protection – the main one being the multilayer insulation," Mohsen Al Awadhi, mission systems engineer and risk manager of the mission, told The National last month.
“It is mainly for temperature control, but we’ve designed it in a way that it reduces any kind of radiation that hits the spacecraft.”
Science is already being collected
The mission’s science team has been collecting data during the spacecraft’s journey to Mars.
“We will be making novel science data available to the international community even earlier than we had originally planned,” said Omran Sharaf, project director.
The team will use the spacecraft’s Mars ultraviolet spectrometre to make early observations of Mars’ outer hydrogen halo, helping add new data to how small bits of hydrogen is formed in interplanetary space.
This hydrogen creates cosmic dust that will be measured by Hope probe’s on board star tracker, a navigational camera.
Entering Mars’ orbit
The most challenging stage of the mission is now approaching – Mars orbit insertion.
Only India has managed to enter the orbit in a first attempt and more than 50 per cent of missions as such fail.
Mr Sharaf remains confident.
“Yes, I am very nervous about it,” he said. “At the end of the day, no matter how much you do, a very small mistake happens or if something goes slightly off, you lose the whole mission.
“Orbit insertion is a very risky operation. A lot of the countries couldn't make it in their first attempt. We are aware of that and we're trying to mitigate the risks.”
Hope will carry out an automated entry due to a time delay and communication outage during the insertion.
It will do a 30-minute fuel burn using its thrusters and reduce its speed from 121,000 kilometres per hour to 18,000kph. The reduction in speed will require the spacecraft to use half of its entire fuel supply.
If it fails to do so, it could miss its target entirely.
If successful, it will then enter the science orbit, where it will remain for two years and study Mars’ atmosphere and dynamic weather conditions.
Nasa officials and other scientists are hoping the mission will fill in the gaps of existing data, especially what is causing gases to leak from the atmosphere.
China’s Tianwen-1 mission is set to arrive after the UAE’s Hope probe.
The ambitious mission launched three days after the UAE’s and includes an orbiter, a deployable camera, lander and a rover.
Nasa’s Perseverance mission will also reach Mars in February. It also launched during the narrow launch window in July.
The rover is expected to make a landing on February 18.