Mission to Mars must have defined objectives

The country’s new space agency will need to discuss with the international community the gaps that still exist in research surrounding the red planet, weighing the merits of each potential objective against the demands it would likely place on mission design.

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DUBAI // The UAE will need to look closely at how it can best use its space mission to help push forward humanity’s understanding of Mars, as well as our own planet, experts say.

The country’s new space agency will need to discuss with the international community the gaps that still exist in research surrounding the red planet, weighing the merits of each potential objective against the demands it will likely place on mission design.

A Mars orbiter can typically carry up to three payloads, each representing a unique scientific experiment.

The 2001 Mars Odyssey mission was orientated around detecting potential water in the Martian soil, mapping the surface and the source of any minerals, and recording the radiation in a low orbit to determine the risk to humans of any future manned mission.

Abdul Ismail, chief executive of UK-based consultancy Interplantery Expeditions, said it was important to choose a payload wisely.

“As for the payload, it would be advisable to determine a gap in knowledge by first finding out what other space agencies have done and what they plan to do,” said Mr Ismail, a trustee for the International Space University. “That way, a UAE Mars mission can aspire to acquire data which has not been collected before and by doing so, making an original contribution to knowledge.

“But a spacecraft has limited mass so payloads and experiments have to be chosen wisely. Many universities and research laboratories bid to have their experiments and payloads on spacecraft and a large percentage fail.”

He personally hoped the UAE would include instruments to detect metals such as aluminium and magnesium, which could be used as a fuel for a potential return mission.

Other ideas include examining meteorite craters on Mars’ surface to assess the threat to Earth, as well as a better examination of the planet’s magnetic fields.

One idea that has started to gain traction involves deploying balloons to the low atmosphere of Mars, which would be used to gather detailed images of the surface.

Former commander Chris Hadfield, a Canadian astronaut, said the objective that was ultimately chosen would determine the design of the spacecraft, which would in turn impact the whole mission plan.

“Once you’ve determined the actual purposes of the satellite, everything else is a daughter of that,” he said. “How big does it need to be, how much power does it need, how much data does it need to send back to the world, what type of communications do we need.

“Once you know what experiments you will need to do, you have to design the rest of the mission as a platform to support that.”

mcroucher@thenational.ae