UAE space chief lays out daunting challenge of Mars orbit entry

Sarah Al Amiri is ‘worried and not worried’ about success on February 9

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Lev Radin/Pacific Press via ZUMA Wire/Shutterstock (10342672s)
Her Excellency Sarah bint Yousif Al Amiri
NOVUS Summit at United Nations Headquarters, New York, USA - 20 Jul 2019
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Sarah Al Amiri, chairwoman of the UAE Space Agency, spoke on Monday of tension as the Hope probe nears the most challenging part of its mission – its entry into orbit around Mars next week.

Ms Al Amiri, also the Minister of State for Advanced Technology, told the US-UAE Business Council that she felt “comfortable and uncomfortable, worried and not worried” about the success of the mission.

“My emotions are slightly confused at the moment,” Ms Al Amiri told the online meeting.

“Seven years’ worth of work of a team of amazing individuals from several continents rests on the fate of the Mars orbit insertion, which is not an easy manoeuvre. It's difficult.”

On February 9, the Hope probe will speed into the dark side of Mars and temporarily lose contact with scientists on Earth as its rockets burn through fuel to sharply reduce speed and reach the correct target orbit around the Red Planet.

Engineers rely on programmed manoeuvres to accomplish the feat.

More than half of Mars missions fail and only India has successfully entered the orbit on a maiden voyage.

“As much as we tested, as much as we rehearsed it, as much as we’ve done all the necessary procedures, and as much as I'm comfortable that the team today did everything they can humanly do to ensure that this is done, there is no guarantee,” Ms Al Amiri said.

The spacecraft was launched from Japan’s Tanegashima Space Centre on July 20 last year at the start of a 493 million kilometre, seven-month journey in the first interplanetary mission led by Arab engineers.

The unmanned probe will spend a full Martian year, or 687 Earth days, relaying data on weather patterns and climate back to the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre's mission control room.

Success would make the UAE the fifth space agency to achieve the feat after missions by the US, the former Soviet Union, China, the European Space Agency and India.

The most nerve-racking part of the Hope probe's Mars mission

The most nerve-racking part of the Hope probe's Mars mission