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The UAE plans to send several space vehicles, including rovers and orbiters, to the Moon as part of the nation’s exploration of space.
An Emirati official revealed the news at a global space conference in Russia.
Salem Al Marri, deputy director general of the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre, outlined the UAE's long-term Moon exploration programme during the third day of the Global Space Exploration Conference in St Petersburg.
After the first rover, Rashid, is sent next year, a second rover will be developed and taken to the lunar surface by 2024 or 2025.
The plan includes building and launching Moon orbiters, forming new partnerships to send Emirati astronauts to the lunar surface and supporting local start-ups by using their technology or science in the missions.
In April, The National exclusively revealed the UAE's plans to expand its Moon programme. Mr Al Marri provided more details: "We do have a long-term Moon exploration plan, which was kicked off by Mars.
“A lot of people asked the question why we skipped over the Moon when we launched the Hope probe to Mars. But we’ve kicked off our latest project, which is the Rashid rover that will explore the lunar surface.
“Our objective is to build and send a second rover by 2024 or 2025. There are plans of sending orbiters around the Moon and we do have an eye on human exploration of the Moon in partnership with different players.”
The efforts are part of the UAE's strategy to be involved in global space exploration. These are currently focused on setting up a human base on the Moon from where astronauts will be sent to Mars.
Different Moon missions
A lander developed by Japan’s ispace company will deliver the UAE’s Rashid rover to the lunar surface.
The vehicle will be launched on a SpaceX flight from Florida’s Kennedy Space Centre at the end of next year.
“Not only is the Moon exciting to study, it’s also closer to get to. It’s much easier to do things around the Moon than, for example, sending a rover to Mars,” Mr Al Marri said.
“Going to the Moon for us is a dual goal of achieving scientific and technological objectives, as well as preparing for future missions to land on the surface of Mars.”
Mr Al Marri said there would be payloads from other space agencies on the first rover, with details to be announced soon.
He said some companies and research institutions are willing to contribute financially to send their payloads on the second rover.
“In the next mission, we do see interest from commercial players and from start-up companies in the UAE that we want to support and endorse,” he said.
“We want our next and future rovers to be used as platforms by start-up companies, universities [and] commercial players to test their ideas, to implement them.”
Mr Al Marri said access to the Moon for small nations like the UAE is becoming easier through commercial space companies who are offering launch services.
Using a lander and rocket that is already available helps Emirati engineers and scientists get quicker and easier access to space.
"Being able to partner with entities such as ispace wasn't something that was available four or five years ago," he said.
“I think in the coming years we’ll see smaller countries who haven’t previously explored the Moon take that challenge and do it effectively.”
A Moon colony
Ispace is building the Hakuto-R spacecraft, which would be capable of landing on the Moon and carrying rovers on board.
The commercial space company has ambitious plans to undertake several Moon missions and to have 1,000 people living in a Moon colony by 2040.
While the UAE plans to reach the Moon to carry out experiments, ispace is also attracting interest from private companies outside the space sector who are interested in Moon mining.
Kyle Acierno, chief executive of ispace, told the Russian conference that it is an exciting time for the Moon.
"From a commercial standpoint, we see more and more interest from outside the space community, more specifically on in situ resource utilisation," he said.
“In the past year or two, I’ve seen more mining companies, large and mid-tier ones, who are interested in understanding more about lunar resources, how they can be used, but also how can they be sold.”
The UAE is one of the countries that signed the Nasa-led Artemis Accords, which outlines principles on peaceful Moon exploration, including the utilisation of resources in space.
The accords allow countries and private companies to create "safety zones" on the Moon, where they are extracting resources, so other agencies or companies do not interfere.
However, participants are required to be transparent on their scientific findings.
The UAE has not announced any plans to extract resources. It will study regolith – lunar soil – as one of its scientific objectives.