In the first week of January, 2020, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, and Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, signed the final outer piece of a satellite, the Hope Probe, ahead of its launch into space to study the atmosphere of Mars.
After blasting off from Earth on July 19, 2020, the Hope Probe is scheduled to be arrive at the Red Planet on February 9, at 7.42pm Gulf Standard Time.
Following the excitement over the UAE successfully sending the first Emirati astronaut to the International Space Station last year, The National has all your questions about the country's next biggest space mission answered:
What is the Hope Probe?
The Hope Probe, also known as the Emirates Mars Mission, is a locally made satellite bound for the Red Planet, where it will gather information about the atmosphere.
It is the Arab world’s first interplanetary mission.
Launch date and schedule
Hope Probe blasted off from Earth on July 19, 2020.
The UAE Space Agency and Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre, set this month as the launch window because it was the time that Earth and Mars were at their closest point. This only happens once every two years.
The probe was launched from Tanegashima Space Centre in Japan and was set to reach Mars in February, 2021, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the unification of the UAE.
Hope will attempt to enter the Red Planet's orbit on February 9. The highly complex procedure has a 50 per cent chance of success.
Five facts about the Mars Mission:
1. The probe is loaded with highly explosive fuel - Where there are rockets, there are massive amounts of explosive liquids. And the Hope probe is no different. It was loaded with 800 kilograms of hydrazine, a fuel propellant commonly used in spacecraft, for its journey to space
2. Contact will be lost with the probe for almost half an hour - There is currently an 11-minute communication delay between mission control and the spacecraft. This is because of the enormous distance between Earth and Mars. When Hope attempts to enter Mars orbit, it will hide behind the planet for 15-20 minutes (called the occultation period), causing all radio signals to be lost
3. Hope will orbit Mars like a Moon - What sets the UAE's mission to Mars apart from any other is the special orbit Hope will be placed in. It will be at an elliptical orbit between 22,000km and 44,000km from the planet's surface – the farthest for a spacecraft to date
4. Hope has teamed up with another spacecraft while in deep space - In November, Hope and the European Space Agency's BepiColombo spacecraft each measured distribution of hydrogen in space together. The European spacecraft was en route to Mercury, and both BepiColombo and Hope's instruments were facing each other so scientists took the opportunity to measure the amount of hydrogen between them. Scientists from ESA and Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre worked together to cross calibrate the instruments and get some extra science out of the mission
5. Hope's gadgets include camera filters and 'heat vision goggles' - Hope has three instruments it will use to perform its scientific tasks – an infrared spectrometer, exploration imager and ultraviolet spectrometer. Keep reading to find out more about these tools below
The mission’s aim
Once it reaches the Red Planet, the Hope Probe will spend two years collecting scientific data. The mission could also get an optional two-year extension, which means it will be in space until 2025.
The probe will collect data on Mars' meteorological layers so scientists can study how the upper and lower layers interact with one another — providing the first complete picture of the planet’s atmosphere.
The spacecraft will search for connections between current Martian weather and the ancient climate of the Red Planet, giving scientists deeper insight into the past and future of our own planet as well as the potential of life for humans on Mars and on other distant planets.
Substantial geophysical evidence suggests that Mars was once a much warmer and more humid world, with a lot of liquid water on its surface. Those past conditions may have been optimal for some form of life to evolve.
The probe will also study what drove oxygen and hydrogen — the building blocks of water — out of Mars' atmosphere. This loss of atmosphere is believed to be the root cause behind Mars becoming a cold desert. Understanding what caused this could help researchers understand how the Martian atmosphere has evolved over time and potentially how life on Mars could have been lost.
The probe is expected to collect more than 1,000 GB of new data. The UAE will share the data with more than 200 academic and scientific institutions around the world for free.
How will the data be collected?
Three technologies mounted on the satellite will capture data from Mars:
Emirates Exploration Imager: A multiband camera that can take pictures of the Martian atmosphere in three visible bands and three ultraviolet bands.
Emirates Mars Infrared Spectrometer: This measures the dust, ice clouds, water vapour and temperature profile of the Martian atmosphere.
Emirates Mars Ultraviolet Spectrometer: This tool measures changes in the thermosphere; the structure of the hydrogen and oxygen around the planet; and the ultraviolet emissions of hydrogen, oxygen and carbon monoxide in the atmosphere.
Who is involved?
The Hope Probe was designed and built by Emirati engineers in partnership with other space agencies around the world. Experts from the University of Colorado Boulder, University of California, Berkeley, and Arizona State University were all involved.
MBRSC is responsible for the execution and supervision of all stages of the design, development and launch of the spacecraft while the UAE Space Agency is funding and supervising all procedures.
What does it look like and how is it getting to Mars?
Hope Probe is the size and weight of a small car with a total mass (including fuel) of 1,500kg, according to Nasa. It is 2.37m wide and 2.9m tall.
It blasted off in a launcher rocket, then detached and accelerated into deep space.
It reached a speed of 126,000kph on its 600 million km journey around the sun to Mars, which took around 200 days.
The probe was built by a team of Emirati scientists and engineers whose average age was 27. The majority of the team responsible for sending the Hope probe 37 million miles to Mars is under 35 years.
A team of 75 Emirati engineers gave final touches to the satellite at the University of Colorado Boulder. The Deputy Project Manager and Chief Scientist, Sarah Al Amiri, who is also the Minister of State for Advanced Sciences, is in her early 30s.
With missions like the Hope Probe and the Astronaut Programme, the UAE aims to train the new generation of Emirati scientists and engineers keen on working in the space sector.
What makes this mission so significant?
The Hope Probe is the first planetary science mission led by an Arab-Islamic country.
It is seen as the Arab world’s version of US President John F Kennedy’s moon shot and is expected to inspire a generation of Emirati and Arab youth to enter the space sector.
It is the UAE’s next biggest space mission since sending the first Emirati astronaut to the International Space Station in September 2019.
This mission will be different from previous probes as its unique orbits and instruments will produce entirely new types of data that will enable scientists to build the first holistic model of the Martian atmosphere.
Does this have anything to do with the Mars 2117 plan?
It is likely that the information gathered during the mission will inform the UAE's plans to build a habitable settlement on Mars by 2117.
“Mars 2117 is a seed we are sowing today to reap the fruit of new generations led by a passion for science and advancing human knowledge,” Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid said on Twitter following the announcement in 2017.
In preparation, the UAE is constructing a complex of buildings called Mars Scientific City. This facility will include a laboratory that will stimulate the red planet’s terrain and harsh environment through advanced 3D printing technology and heat and radiation insulation.
A team of scientists and astronauts will live in this simulated environment for one year to assess the living conditions on Mars.
A version of this article was first published on January 7, 2020