Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 29 September 2020

UAE IN SPACE

UAE Mars Mission: how to track Hope probe in real time

The spacecraft started its voyage to Mars on July 20 and has a bit more than six months to go

The UAE’s Hope spacecraft remains ‘healthy’ and is on the way to the Red Planet, according to a live tracking website by US space agency Nasa.

Communication with the Mars weather satellite, which lifted-off from Japan on July 20, is possible through massive antennas by Nasa’s Deep Space Network, located in three countries to provide a 24-hour coverage of the craft.

The spacecraft is expected to arrive to its desired Martian orbit in February and will remain there for two years, capturing data so scientists can study the dynamic weather conditions of the planet.

Emirati engineers will soon instruct the Hope probe to make a series of maneuvers, helping the craft nudge itself to its final Mars trajectory.

During this mission, the satellite will be sending data to one of the antennas in Canberra in Australia, Madrid in Spain or Goldstone, California.

The data, or telemetry, is then sent to Emirati engineers at the mission control centre at Dubai’s Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre.

However, anyone can track the status of deep space missions that use Nasa’s network.

The National explains how you can follow UAE’s Hope probe’s journey live.

Nasa’s Deep Space Network has a live feed

A Nasa website shows all deep space missions, which use the Deep Space Network, sending telemetry in real time.

The live feed helps show the status of the spacecraft, including its range, frequency, and power levels of radio transmissions, as well as the speed in which the craft is sending data.

US space agency Nasa's Deep Space Network has a live feed of the spacecrafts it tracks. UAE's Hope probe is dubbed as 'EMM' on the website. Courtesy: Nasa 
US space agency Nasa's Deep Space Network has a live feed of the spacecrafts it tracks. UAE's Hope probe is dubbed as 'EMM' on the website. Courtesy: Nasa

Currently, there are 10 active deep space missions that the network is tracking, including the Emirates Mars Mission.

The steerable and high-gain antennas were strategically installed in three countries so Nasa can stay in contact with a spacecraft around the clock as the Earth rotates.

Status of UAE’s Hope probe

As of late Sunday, 11.30pm, UAE’s spacecraft was sending telemetry to the antenna in Canberra, Australia. An hour later, Madrid was looking after it.

The satellite remains in ‘good health’ and was sending data at a ‘healthy’ rate and frequency.

The live feed shows which antenna is communicating with the spacecraft. Courtesy: Nasa 
The live feed shows which antenna is communicating with the spacecraft. Courtesy: Nasa 

The ‘range’ figure, which tells the distance travelled so far, is not available while it is for the nine other missions the network is tracking.

Within two days of the launch, the probe had travelled a million kilometres from Earth. By July 27, a distance of 2.47million kms was travelled.

At that rate, it is likely the spacecraft has already voyaged more than seven million kms. The remaining cruising distance, in this case, would be 486.5 million kms.

What does the Deep Space Network measure?

In the live feed, the public can see if and when a spacecraft is sending data, which antennas are communicating with the crafts, as well as the speed, power and rate being used to send and receive telemetry.

However, the network does more behind the scenes, such as acquiring, processing, decoding and distributing data to mission control rooms in different parts of the world.

It also shows the amount of data the spacecraft is sending. This was the Hope probe's status on Sunday, 11pm. Courtesy: Nasa 
It also shows the amount of data the spacecraft is sending. This was the Hope probe's status on Sunday, 11pm. Courtesy: Nasa 

Mission operations team, including the UAE Mars Mission engineers, use the Deep Space Network Command System to control the spacecraft’s activities.

During an exclusive visit to the ground control room last month, The National learnt that Emirati engineers already have a series of commands prepared for the Hope probe during its 200-day journey to Mars.

They are working in 24-hour shifts at the mission control room until August 20 to ensure the spacecraft is cruising in the correct route.

Expect communication delays later on

The long-distance calls are smooth so far, but as the Hope probe travels further away from Earth, there will be a communication delay between it and the ground control team.

The signals from the spacecraft are received within seconds as of now, however, that time frame will be increased to minutes in the next few weeks.

When it reaches Mars, there will be at least a 15-minute delay.

Social media alerts on Hope

If you don’t want to wait until the Hope probe becomes ‘live’ on the website next, there are a few Twitter accounts that post each time the spacecraft sends telemetry.

One of the most active ones is the Dsn_Status account, an unofficial version of the network.

Updated: August 13, 2020 11:23 AM

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