Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 20 September 2020

UAE IN SPACE

UAE Mars Mission: Contact with Hope probe reduced as craft enters next phase of journey to the Red Planet

As the spacecraft moves deeper into space, communication will be limited to essential operations

Contact with the UAE's Hope probe has been reduced as it travels deeper into space on its long journey to the Red Planet.

The probe, which will study Mars’ dynamic weather conditions, has already cruised more than 126.6 million kilometres since it was launched from Japan on July 20.

A team of Emirati engineers at Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre monitor the spacecraft, as well as send commands to it and receive telemetry, which contain key data such as the craft's location and the status of its subsystems.

Contact with the spacecraft has been cut from daily to twice a week as it continues its cruise phase.

Space officials are also gearing up for a third course correction manoeuvre in November to ensure the craft stays on the right path.

Where the Mars Probe is as of September 3. Courtesy: Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre
Where the Mars Probe is as of September 3. Courtesy: Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre

Hope probe making smooth progress in Mars mission

"The spacecraft has now commenced the 'normal operations' phase of its cruise, following the successful completion of the commissioning phase in which we have ensured that all on board systems are operating nominally,” said Omran Sharaf, project director of the mission.

“As the distance between the Hope probe and Earth increases, we are now reducing communications to essential operations during the cruise phase as we head towards our third trajectory control manoeuvre in November."

Why has contact been reduced?

Because the testing phase been completed successfully – ensuring the probe’s systems are working as they should – engineers will not require telemetry as regularly until the next manoeuvre needs to be made or until the mission reaches the orbit insertion phase.

Contact will be made twice a week in bursts of six or seven hours.

As it moves further away from Earth, there will be a delay in receiving the telemetry and sending command because of the increasing distance.

Course correction will keep probe on right path

Engineers made the first course correction manoeuvre in mid-August, which involved firing the probe's six Delta-V thrusters for the first time in its seven-month journey to the Red Planet.

A second course adjustment was carried out soon after.

The spacecraft is expected to make seven vital course corrections throughout its space odyssey.

As part of planetary protection protocols, Mars and other missions are typically launched on an initial flight path that is intended to miss the mission’s planetary target.

Once tests have confirmed the spacecraft is performing, and mitigating the chance of an unplanned crash and potential contamination with Earth pathogens, its path is adjusted.

With more than 20 per cent of its journey already completed, there is still more than 360 million kilometres to go until it reaches the Martian orbit early February.

As of August 24, the spacecraft was travelling at a speed of 110,400 to 122,400 kilometres per hour.

It will automatically reduce its speed to 18,000 kph as it gets closer to Mars.

The commissioning phase included turning on the probe’s systems, including its three instruments to ensure they are working properly.

Once the probe reaches Mars’ science orbit, it will use its infrared spectrometer to study the lower atmosphere of the planet and will measure the global distribution of dust, ice clouds, temperature profiles and water vapours.

The exploration imager will take high-resolution images of Mars, while the ultraviolet spectrometer will measure relative changes in the thermosphere and gases leaking from it.

Data gathered from these instruments will help scientists better understand the Martian atmosphere.

It is the first time a global picture of Mars will be available, as the spacecraft will be placed further up in the orbit than any other craft has ever been.

At an elliptical orbit of between 22,000km and 44,000km from the planet’s surface, the height will allow the probe to capture weather patterns and study the whole atmosphere at different times of the day.

Updated: September 3, 2020 08:40 PM

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