Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 4 August 2020

UAE IN SPACE

UAE Mars mission launch postponed until Friday due to bad weather

Lift-off will now take place at 12.43am on Friday but teams on the ground will reassess the weather closer to the time

The UAE's Mars mission has been postponed until Friday because of bad weather at the launch site in Japan.

The decision was made by the UAE Space Agency, Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, which built the rocket that will launch the probe to space, on Tuesday.

Authorities said the historic project – the first journey to the Red Planet undertaken by an Arab nation – would now blast off at 12.43am UAE time on Friday.

Omran Al Sharaf, project manager of Emirates Mars Mission, said the team would continue to monitor the weather and make another call closer to the day.

“Japan has been witnessing unstable weather conditions and it seems this might not subdue shortly," he said during an interview with Dubai TV.

Even on the 17th, the team will meet to assess the situation on that day

Omran Sharaf, Emirates Mars Mission

"So, even on the 17th, the team will meet to assess the situation on that day."

He said strict safety standards had to be met before the rocket can be launched.

“We are talking about a rocket here and it will pass different areas of the atmospheres and unstable weather conditions are present, from storms to heavy rainfall. Not only could this affect the rocket but it also endangers the probe inside the fairing.”

He said the team was still studying the situation and that it would be a great loss to see years of work lost because of unstable weather.

“The team has been working to launch the probe as soon as possible, but at the same time, we will not put the probe and the airspace at risk. This is a unanimous decision we have reached, in co-ordination with the UAE government and the Japanese partners.”

The rocket carrying the Hope probe into space was due to be moved to the launch pad on Tanegashima Island after receiving approval earlier on Tuesday.

The weather worsened almost immediately after the crew was given the "go ahead", leading to the planned launch being put off for two days.

Mr Al Sharaf said atmospheric conditions in the rocket’s flight path must remain stable for 24-hours for the launch to take place.

The team has a window until August 3 to launch the probe. If missed, the teams must wait another two years until Mars and Earth realign favourably, which is necessary for such missions.

The United States and China are also taking advantage of this window to launch their Mars orbiters.

More than 150 Emirati engineers, scientists and researchers have spent six years working on this mission, which cost nearly Dh765million.

Engineers had been concerned about the heavy rain that had plagued the area for weeks with record rains falling over the Kagoshima prefecture, which includes the island city of Tanegashima.

They had hoped the rainy season would end in time for the launch.

The H-IIA rocket was to be rolled out at 10.30am UAE time on Tuesday and was to be fuelled eight hours before lift-off, which was scheduled for 12.51am on Wednesday.

A press briefing was held by the launch provider on Monday, where the launch status was discussed.

“There is concern about rain and lightning from the afternoon of the 14th until the launch time,” said Keiji Suzuki, director of the Mitsubishi launch site service team.

“But we will proceed as planned while judging the weather.”

The Hope probe is to study the atmosphere of the Red Planet, delivering data which will be crucial to future efforts to launch human missions to Mars.

Launch scrubs because of weather are common and are made to ensure the safety of the rocket and spacecraft.

In January, a rocket launch carrying a satellite to space from the Tanegashima island was postponed because the weather had deteriorated.

In 2018, another satellite launch from the island was delayed for the same reason.

The SpaceX launch carrying the first commercial crew to space earlier this year was scrubbed 17-minutes before lift-off due to bad weather at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.

Updated: July 14, 2020 07:16 PM

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