UAE’s Hope probe moves to new orbit to study Mars’ tiny moon Deimos

A new science mission begins as the UAE celebrates two years since Hope reached Mars

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The UAE’s Hope probe has moved to a new orbit around Mars to study one of the planet’s tiny moons.

Deimos, which measures only 6.2km in radius, is the smaller of the two moons that orbit the Red Planet.

Hope, the Arab world’s first interplanetary mission, will perform fly-bys that will take it within 100km of the moon.

The announcement was made on February 9, the second anniversary of the spacecraft reaching Mars.

“The Emirates Mars Mission has a unique opportunity to fully characterise the disc-resolved composition, thermophysics, shape and geologic surface features of Deimos in resolution that haven’t been acquired before,” said Hessa Al Matroushi, science lead of the mission.

Moving to the new orbit

Since arriving in Mars orbit, the Hope probe has been in an elliptical orbit between 22,000km and 44,000km from the planet’s surface, allowing it to observe from much higher above than any other spacecraft.

Now, the inclination of that orbit has changed after the spacecraft performed a manoeuvre called the Lambert orbital transfer.

This means the spacecraft fired its Delta-V thrusters to make manoeuvres that allowed it to move from one elliptical orbit to another.

Two of the three required manoeuvres have already been made, allowing it to reach a new orbit between 20,000km and 43,000km with a 25-degree incline towards the planet.

“Previously, we didn't have any reason to move the orbit,” Ms Al Matroushi said.

“But now we’re exploring a new adventure and science mission.”

What will it study?

Engineers are using the probe’s three main science instruments to capture images and data of the moon.

These include an exploration imager ― a high-resolution camera ― to photograph the moon, and the infrared and ultraviolet spectrometers to measure its temperature and observe its thermophysical properties, including its regolith, or dust.

The first Deimos fly-by took place in late January, and as the probe moves to its closest approach to the moon, it will take high-resolution images.

It will also continue to study atmospheric conditions on Mars. So far, the Emirates Mars Mission team have released six batches of data on the Red Planet, more than 1.7 terabytes.

What's special about Deimos?

Deimos completes an orbit around Mars every 30 hours and is much smaller than its companion, Phobos.

"Like Phobos, Deimos is a small and lumpy, heavily cratered object," Nasa said.

"Its craters are generally smaller than 1.6 miles [2.5km] in diameter, however, and it lacks the grooves and ridges seen on Phobos.

"Deimos also has a thick regolith, perhaps as deep as 328 feet [100m], formed as meteorites pulverised the surface."

The moon has been studied by spacecraft from other space agencies, but Emirati engineers are hoping that their probe will bring new discoveries, including new data on the moon's dark side ― the part that faces the planet.

Updated: February 09, 2023, 9:45 AM