The UAE’s Hope probe has successfully entered its target orbit around Mars, where it will spend two years capturing data on the planet’s atmospheric conditions.
The spacecraft’s six thrusters performed an important burn for 8.36 minutes to enter its desired orbit in recent days.
Omran Sharaf, the mission director, described the burn as a "truly scary moment" and said there was a risk of losing the spacecraft.
“The TSM [transition to science manoeuvre] was critically important and I can say [it] was the last truly scary moment for the mission because there was a very real risk of losing the spacecraft during this last burn,” he said.
“We’re now assessing the results of that burn but I can say we are confident that we will not need a further large correction manoeuvre.”
Hope moved from an orbit of 1,063 kilometres by 42,4261km from the planetary surface to a final orbit of 20,000 kilometres by 43,000 kilometres.
The unique orbital placement will help the spacecraft capture the planet’s weather and atmospheric dynamics during different times of the day.
New image by Hope probe
Hope has sent back more than 825 images since it arrived to the Red Planet on February 9.
The mission team shared a photo of the Cerberus Fossae on Mars, a fracture system that stretches more than 1,000km across the Martian surface.
It is believed the fractures could be related to the nearby volcanic systems, such as Elysium and Tharsis.
Some experts have said these fractures may have been the source for catastrophic releases of groundwater, triggered by volcanic activity.
Nasa’s Insight lander recently identified that the Cerberus Fossae indicates a tectonically and volcanically active system.
Hope’s eXploration Imager instrument, a high-resolution and radition-tolerant camera – took the photo.
It was captured when the spacecraft was closest to Mars’s planetary surface. Now that it has moved into its final orbit, it will always be much higher above.
Science data to be available soon
The team is now ensuring the spacecraft has established a stable science orbit and deployment of its three scientific instruments – eXploration imager and an infrared and ultraviolet spectrometer.
Hessa Al Matroushi, the mission’s science lead, said data collection will begin on May 23 and would be shared globally in October.
“Once we have established our stable science orbit and deployed our instruments, we can start building datasets and testing our systems with the live data,” she said.
“This is the data we will be processing, formatting and sharing with the world’s science and academic communities openly through our website.”
To gather data, Hope will have to make repeated passes around Mars, so scientists can map out each set of measurements.
This will help to build a full picture of the movement of dust, ice and water vapour throughout the planet’s atmospheric layers.
Gases such as hydrogen, oxygen, carbon monoxide, as well as the ozone, will also be measured.
The data could help scientists understand why the planet is losing its atmosphere, making it impossible for life to exist there.
Hope will capture planet-wide high-resolution samples every 9.5 days.
“If you imagine spinning a basketball on your finger and then wrapping it with wool as it spins, you get an idea of how Hope covers the whole planet over consecutive orbits,” said Ms Al Matroushi.
“While we’re doing that, we’re constantly measuring with two spectrometers and an imager. These three data streams combine to give us a holistic, powerful and unique picture of Mars’s atmosphere that we hope will answer many, many questions we have about the planet and our theories regarding its atmospheric loss.”