UAE Mars Mission: One-month countdown of Hope probe’s arrival into orbit begins

UAE spacecraft has travelled more than 400 million kilometres since its launch on July 20

The UAE’s Hope probe will reach Mars in about 30 days.

The spacecraft is expected to enter orbit on February 9, at 7.42pm Gulf Standard Time.

If successful, the Emirates will become the fifth nation worldwide to accomplish the feat.

The probe will initiate an automated entry sequence, but there will be a 20-minute communication delay with mission control because of the distance.

This means Emirati engineers will know if it has been captured into orbit only after contact has been restored.

“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,” Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, had said in November.

“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 journey so far

Hope was launched aboard a Japanese Mitsubishi rocket on July 20, from the Tanegashima Space Centre.

It will spend two years orbiting the Red Planet, capturing data on the lower and upper atmosphere using three scientific instruments. The mission is expected to help scientists learn why hydrogen and oxygen are leaking from the atmosphere, which is causing the planet’s unstable climate.

One of the probe’s scientific instruments, the ultraviolet spectrometer, will capture photos of Mars to analyse gases around it.

Engineers at mission control have been monitoring the spacecraft’s health since it was launched into space. Out of the 493.5 million kilometres total journey, less than 62.3 million kilometres remains.

A navigational camera known as a star tracker has helped ensure Hope stays on the correct path to Mars.

It was also used to measure interplanetary dust between Earth and the Red Planet as part of an additional scientific mission.

Mars orbit insertion

Entering Mars’ orbit is one of the most challenging parts of the mission.

Nearly half of the spacecraft’s fuel will be used during this stage. It will fire its thrusters for 30 minutes to reduce its speed from 121,000kph to 18,000kph.

If it goes too fast or too slow, it could either crash on Mars or miss it entirely.

Once it arrives just short of Mars, the spacecraft will be captured into a long, looping orbit, where it will first spend about 40 hours. The elliptical orbit will take the Hope probe as close as 1,000km above Mars’ surface and 49,380km away from it.

The first image of Mars from the probe’s scientific instruments will be taken at this stage.

A series of manoeuvres will then ensure the spacecraft is positioned correctly for a transfer into the science orbit. It will stay here for two years.

The science orbit is an elliptical orbit in which the probe will carry out its science operations. It ranges between 22,000 to 43,000 km and one revolution will take 55 hours to complete.

The Hope probe’s strategic placement will allow it to take the first global photo of the planet. This means it will capture Mars’ atmospheric dynamics and weather patterns in different times of the day – a feat that has never been done before.

Emirati engineers will stay in contact with Hope twice a week for six to eight hours each time.

All of the data will be available for free online on a website that will be launched soon by the mission team.

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