Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 February 2020

Everything you need to know about the UAE's Hope Probe

The Emirates Mars Mission, the country's next biggest space project, is set to launch in July

Sarah Amiri, Deputy Project Manager of the Emirates Mars Mission and Minister of State for Advanced Sciences, talks about the Hope Probe scheduled for launch in July. AP
Sarah Amiri, Deputy Project Manager of the Emirates Mars Mission and Minister of State for Advanced Sciences, talks about the Hope Probe scheduled for launch in July. AP

This week, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, and Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, signed the final outer piece of a satellite, the Hope Probe, which is due to launch into space this year to study the atmosphere of Mars.

Following the excitement over the UAE successfully sending the first Emirati astronaut to the International Space Station last year, The National has all your questions about the country’s next biggest space mission answered:

What is the Hope Probe?

The Hope Probe, also known as the Emirates Mars Mission, is a locally made satellite bound for the Red Planet, where it will gather information about the atmosphere.

Launch date and schedule

While an exact launch date has yet to be announced, Hope Probe will blast off from Earth sometime in July.

The UAE Space Agency and Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre, set this month as the launch window because it is the time that Earth and Mars will be at their closest point. This only happens once every two years.

The probe will be launched from the Tanegashima Space Centre in Japan and is expected to reach Mars orbit in the first quarter of 2021, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the unification of the UAE.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, and Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, sign a piece of the Hope Probe, which will be launched to Mars in July, at Qasr Al Watan. Hamad Al Kaabi / Ministry of Presidential Affairs 
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, and Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, sign a piece of the Hope Probe, which will be launched to Mars in July, at Qasr Al Watan. Hamad Al Kaabi / Ministry of Presidential Affairs 

The mission’s aim:

Once it reaches the Red Planet, the Hope Probe will collect two years' worth of scientific data. The mission could also get an optional two-year extension, which means it will be in space until 2025.

The probe will collect data on Mars' meteorological layers so scientists can study how the upper and lower layers interact with one another — providing the first complete picture of the planet’s atmosphere.

The spacecraft will search for connections between current Martian weather and the ancient climate of the Red Planet, giving scientists deeper insight into the past and future of our own planet as well as the potential of life for humans on Mars and on other distant planets.

Substantial geophysical evidence suggests that Mars was once a much warmer and more humid world, with a lot of liquid water on its surface. Those past conditions may have been optimal for some form of life to evolve.

The probe will also study what drove oxygen and hydrogen — the building blocks of water — out of Mars’ atmosphere. This loss of atmosphere is believed to be the root cause behind Mars becoming a cold desert. Understanding what caused this could help researchers understand how the Martian atmosphere has evolved over time and potentially how life on Mars could have been lost.

The probe is expected to collect more than 1,000 GB of new data. The UAE will share the data with more than 200 academic and scientific institutions around the world for free.

The UAE's mission to Mars, the Hope Probe. Ramon Peñas / The National
The UAE's mission to Mars, the Hope Probe. Ramon Peñas / The National

How will the data be collected?

Three technologies mounted on the satellite will capture data from Mars:

Emirates Exploration Imager: A multiband camera that can take pictures of the Martian atmosphere in three visible bands and three ultraviolet bands.

Emirates Mars Infrared Spectrometer: This measures the dust, ice clouds, water vapour and temperature profile of the Martian atmosphere.

Emirates Mars Ultraviolet Spectrometer: This tool measures changes in the thermosphere; the structure of the hydrogen and oxygen around the planet; and the ultraviolet emissions of hydrogen, oxygen and carbon monoxide in the atmosphere.

Who is involved?

The Hope Probe was designed and is being built by Emirati engineers in partnership with other space agencies around the world. Experts from the University of Colorado Boulder, University of California, Berkeley, and Arizona State University were all involved.

MBRSC is responsible for the execution and supervision of all stages of the design, development and launch of the spacecraft while the UAE Space Agency is funding and supervising all procedures.

Engineers assemble the Hope Probe. Courtesy MBR Space Centre / Dubai Media Office
Engineers assemble the Hope Probe. Courtesy MBR Space Centre / Dubai Media Office

What will it look like and how will it get to Mars?

Hope Probe will be the size and weight of a small car with a total mass (including fuel) of 1,500kg, according to Nasa. It is 2.37m wide and 2.9m tall.

It will blast off in a launcher rocket, then detach and accelerate into deep space. It will reach a speed of 126,000kph on its 600 million km journey around the sun to Mars, which will take around 200 days.

Home-grown satellite

The probe was built by a team of Emirati scientists and engineers whose average age was 27. The majority of the team responsible for sending the Hope probe 37 million miles to Mars is under 35 years.

A team of 75 Emirati engineers are giving final touches to the satellite at the University of Colorado Boulder. The Deputy Project Manager and Chief Scientist, Sarah Al Amiri, who is also the Minister of State for Advanced Sciences, is in her early 30s.

With missions like the Hope Probe and the Astronaut Programme, the UAE aims to train the new generation of Emirati scientists and engineers keen on working in the space sector.

What makes this mission so significant?

The Hope Probe is the first planetary science mission led by an Arab-Islamic country.

It is seen as the Arab world’s version of US President John F Kennedy’s moon shot and is expected to inspire a generation of Emirati and Arab youth to enter the space sector.

It is the UAE’s next biggest space mission since sending the first Emirati astronaut to the International Space Station in September last year.

This mission will be different from previous probes as its unique orbits and instruments will produce entirely new types of data that will enable scientists to build the first holistic model of the Martian atmosphere.

The UAE plans to establish the first human colony on Mars in 2117. Courtesy Dubai Media Office
The UAE plans to establish the first human colony on Mars in 2117. Courtesy Dubai Media Office

Does this have anything to do with the Mars 2117 plan?

It is likely that the information gathered during the mission will inform the UAE’s plans to build a habitable settlement on Mars by 2117.

“Mars 2117 is a seed we are sowing today to reap the fruit of new generations led by a passion for science and advancing human knowledge,” Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid said on Twitter following the announcement in 2017.

In preparation, the UAE is constructing a complex of buildings called Mars Scientific City. This facility will include a laboratory that will stimulate the red planet’s terrain and harsh environment through advanced 3D printing technology and heat and radiation insulation. A team of scientists and astronauts will live in this simulated environment for one year to assess the living conditions on Mars.

Updated: January 7, 2020 11:02 AM

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