UAE's lunar mission to help build space station on Moon

Final engineering model for Rashid rover to be agreed on by next year ahead of 2024 launch

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Emirati engineers have begun work on the first Arab mission to the Moon – a landmark project that is expected to contribute to global efforts to build a lunar space station.

The engineering model for the Rashid rover, a 10 kilogram robotic machine, are being designed and will be finalised next year.

US space agency Nasa is leading the Lunar Gateway project that will see the establishment of a human base on the Moon to make deep space missions possible, particularly sending astronauts to Mars.

This is a shared goal by the UAE, which plans to send Emirati astronauts to the Red Planet and build a city there by the year 2117.

“Why the Moon?” Adnan Al Rais, programme director of Mars 2117, asked during a media briefing on Sunday. “The global exploration road map which was set by international agencies agreed that in order to send future missions to Mars, we need to first send humans to the Moon through a project called Lunar Gateway.

“Developing those technologies will help us in future to reach our goal. The UAE is contributing with this robotic mission that will be launched.”

Mr Al Rais said Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre is yet to sign a contract with a launch service provider to send Rashid to space in 2024. Nasa’s crewed Artemis mission will also launch in 2024 and aims to put the first woman and next man on the lunar surface. Artemis 1, an unmanned mission to the Moon, is launching in 2021 as an initial step towards that goal.

Nasa has previously encouraged nations to invest in the project and "get a ride" on the 2024 mission However, it is not yet confirmed if UAE has signed any agreements.

So far, Japan, Italy and Australia have invested in Nasa’s efforts to establish a human base on the Moon.

Scientific contribution

The results of the Emirates Lunar Mission will likely contribute to the international goal of establishing a lunar space station. It will be the Emirates’ first robotic landing mission on another celestial body and the rover will be developed in the UAE by Emirati engineers.

Rashid will study the lunar surface soil, thermal properties of the surface structure and lunar photoelectron sheath.

“Studying lunar dust will help develop technologies for future missions,” said Dr Hamad Al Marzooqi, project director of the mission.

Strengths and weaknesses of different materials against lunar particles will also be measured to help engineers and scientists develop technology needed for more complex missions on the Moon.

The Arab lunar rover. Source: MBRSC 
The Arab lunar rover. Source: MBRSC 

Because of the harsh lunar surface, Rashid will also study mobility and help determine what hi-tech solutions are needed for smoother transportation.

Emirati scientists are currently studying unexplored regions of the Moon and where Rashid could potentially land.

“There were a handful of missions that were sent, but it will study new territories where we can provide valuable scientific data to the international community,” said Dr Al Marzooqi.

Challenges ahead

More than 55 per cent of Moon landing missions have failed and only the US, China and the Soviet Union have been able to land rovers there.

UAE could become the fourth country to achieve the feat, however, Japan is planning to send a lander to the Moon by 2022.

“It’s very challenging to land a mission on the lunar surface,” said Dr Al Marzooqi. “This is one of the key challenges we’d have to overcome to have a successful mission.”

He said the extreme environment on the lunar surface also poses a challenge, as temperatures can drop to -173°C.

Hi-tech rover

To survive the Moon's unstable terrains, Rashid will be equipped with four durable wheels.

The rover will have four cameras, of which two will capture high-resolution images and assist with navigation.

The third camera will be microscopic to capture close-ups of lunar dust and the final camera will study thermal properties on the surface.

Rashid will also have a Langmuir probe, which will measure temperature of electrons, electron density and electric potential of a plasma.

An inertial measurement unit will track the rover’s movements.

Creating jobs and partnerships

The UAE’s ambitious plan to build a city on Mars by 2117 was a strategic move to guarantee jobs to Emiratis in Stem (science, technology, engineering and maths) for the next 100 years.

The Emirates Lunar Mission is one of several other projects launched to achieve the Martian city goal.

MBRSC is also working towards building a Mars simulation city in the Al Khawaneej area, close to where the space centre headquarters is located.

This July, the UAE launched the first Arab mission to Mars and the Hope orbiter is currently en route to the Red Planet.

Mr Al Rais said MBRSC will soon announce new partnerships and collaborations that have been made for joint work on the Moon mission.

Last month, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, said more Emirati space missions will take place over the next decade.

MBRSC's 10-year plan also includes new satellite development centres, outer space simulation centre for astronaut training and more Emirati-built satellites.