Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 1 November 2020

UAE IN SPACE

UAE Mars Mission postponed again due to bad weather

A new launch date for July will be announced within the next 24 hours

The UAE's landmark Mars mission has been postponed for a second time because of "turbulent and unstable" weather at the launch site.

On Wednesday, the UAE Space Agency and Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre said the decision to postpone the Friday launch was made unanimously in consultation with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, the company that built the rocket that the Hope probe will be launched on.

A new launch date for July will be announced within the next 24 hours, they said.

"It was decided to postpone the launch of the Hope probe, the first Arab mission to explore Mars, from July 17 to a new date in July. The new date will be announced within the next 24-hours," the UAE Government said on Twitter.

It said the decision was made after extensive meetings and "due to the continued turbulence and instability of weather conditions on Tanegashima Island, the launch site for the rocket carrying the Hope probe."

Overcast skies on Tanegashima Island, Japan, the launch site for the rocket carrying the UAE's Hope probe. Courtesy: Shoma Watanbe
Overcast skies on Tanegashima Island, Japan, the launch site for the rocket carrying the UAE's Hope probe. Courtesy: Shoma Watanbe

The spacecraft was initially due to launch on Wednesday at 12.51am UAE time. On Tuesday, teams were given the "go-ahead" to move the rocket to the launch pad but heavy rain suddenly began to fall, prompting a decision to reschedule the launch to Friday at 12.43am.

The team has a window until August 3 to launch the probe. If missed, the teams must wait another two years until Mars and Earth realign favourably, which is necessary for such missions.

After the first postponement, Omran Al Sharaf, project manager of Emirates Mars Mission, said the team would continue to monitor the weather and there was a chance the launch would be delayed again.

“Is there a chance of further delay? There is always a chance because of the weather,” he said during a virtual briefing.

We didn’t want to take the risk and lose the work we’ve done in the past six years

Omran Al Sharaf, UAE Mars Mission

"But we have a launch window that’s three weeks-long – we are targeting to launch within then.

“When it comes to Friday, it’s very difficult to tell you. We had our daily meeting and everything seemed fine for our launch on July 15. Then, this morning in our meeting it didn’t seem like a good idea. It totally changed compared to yesterday."

He said strict safety standards had to be met before the rocket can be launched.

Atmospheric conditions in the rocket’s flight path must remain stable for 24 hours for the launch to take place.

“We didn’t want to take the risk and lose the work we’ve done in the past six years because of launching at an unsuitable time,” Mr Al Sharaf said of the mission, which cost Dh735 million.

“We are talking about a rocket here and it will pass different areas of the atmospheres and unstable weather conditions are present, from storms to heavy rainfall. Not only could this affect the rocket but it also endangers the probe inside the fairing.

“The team has been working to launch the probe as soon as possible, but at the same time, we will not put the probe and the airspace at risk. This is a unanimous decision we have reached, in co-ordination with the UAE government and the Japanese partners.”

In an interview with Euronews, Sarah Al Amiri, the UAE's Minister for Advanced Sciences, said the country took a great risk when it announced the Mars mission.

“Only half of these missions succeed in arriving to Mars. Taking on that risk and getting the outcome that creates a large change in the realm of possibilities and allows people to further drive forward other sectors increases the risk," she said.

"That is what we hope happens in the Arab world and anecdotally, that's what we see happening here in the UAE. We see our children speaking differently, talking more about Mars, talking about how we're going to get there. It is conversations that we've never had in this region of the world. We've never asked before.”

She said the countdown to launch was stressful because there comes a point when they must relinquish control.

"It's not a launch vehicle and it's something that we place the faith completely in our launch service provider directly after launch, one hour after. That's our first test. Seven months later, we will get closer to Mars and by February 2021, we need to enter into Mars’ orbit by lowering our speeds significantly and straining our propulsion system significantly to break in to space and enter into orbit around Mars. That is a very critical maneuver that the team has simulated time and time again.”

More than 150 Emirati engineers, scientists and researchers have spent six years working on this mission.

Engineers had been concerned about the heavy rain that had hit the area for weeks with record rains falling over the Kagoshima prefecture, which includes the island city of Tanegashima.

They had hoped the rainy season would end in time for the launch.

The Mars mission is a first for the Arab world. Once launched, the probe will take seven months to reach the Red Planet, where it will capture high-resolution photos and study the relationship between the upper and lower atmospheres of the planet.

The launch can be watched live on the Emirates Mars Mission website.

Updated: July 15, 2020 03:44 PM

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