Omran Sharaf, project manager
Projet Manager Overseeing the Emirates Mars Mission
At the age of 32, Sharaf already has an impressive trajectory of experience by virtue of being a part of the development of three satellites — DubaiSat-1, DubaiSat-2 and KhalifaSat. From 2011 to 2014, Sharaf was the director of space imaging processing and analysis.
He has also been a part of the UAE’s delegation to the United Nations Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space since 2010 and is a member of the UAE’s delegation to and former chair of the International Committee of Global Navigation Satellite Systems.
As a child, Sharaf was interested in space but never really expected to work in the field as an adult.
“When I was in high school and trying to decide on what to study [for a career], I chose electrical engineering. I told my family that it would be nice if I could use this [knowledge] to build a satellite. But I never thought that I would actually be doing that because at that time the UAE did not have a space programme.”
But by the time Sharaf had earned his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Virgina, USA, his dream field had become a reality. He joined the UAE space programme and moved to Korea to continue his education and training in this field.
“I lived in South Korea for seven years. It was an extremely different experience but I would like to say that it was also a very positive one. What surprised me the most were the cultural similarities between the Middle Eastern culture and the Korean culture when it came to areas like hospitality, family values, etc”
Sharaf earned his masters in Science and Technology Policy from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology in South Korea.
Sharaf and his team are responsible for directing, managing and supporting the different ongoing programmes within the Mohammad Bin Rashid Space Centre and identifying new science-led strategic opportunities for the UAE.
“My main responsibility is to achieve the government objectives. They are very clear objectives — of building scientific capabilities and even technical capabilities in the UAE, starting from the sustainable programme for outer space exploration for the UAE.”
As part of his work as a project manager, he must follow up with each team in charge of a different aspect of the launch, and direct and support their progress.
The outer space objectives have been finalised and the team has now started designing the probe according to the science objectives received by the science team.
“This phase will continue for at least a year and a half and, once that is finalised, we can start the manufacturing, testing and integration process. We have even started the design process of the operation side, which usually comes at a later stage, because we need to have the software and the tools to command and control.”
Sharaf said the probe has to be ready before 2020. It has to be tested, verified and it has to meet all the requirements that have been set. He said around three probe models will be made using cheaper material before the final probe is created for testing.
“I am extremely proud to be part of this project. I never thought I would be working on such a mission. I have to say I am very impressed by the leadership’s decision to pursue this goal. It is a catalyst for bigger things to come and will change many things within the region.”
A fun fact about his team, which comprises 75 Emiratis, is that they work 24/7 and are constantly in meetings.
“We have teams working 24/7 either from the house or the office. Some members are working even when they are flying on projects other than the Mars mission.
Lead Science Investigator and Deputy Project Manager
Along with her team, Sara, who holds a bachelor’s degree in computer science from the American University of Sharjah, is in charge of developing the mission’s scientific objectives, goals, instrumentation and analysis programme.
She is head of the Aerial Systems programme at Mohammad Bin Rashid Space Centre and is also leading the design and development of the UAE’s first unmanned aerial system.
Sara said the role of her team comes early in the project, as it is they who request and tell the engineers what to do.
“Our goal is to generate novel science. We need to collect data that scientists here in the UAE and globally did not have access to up to 2021.”
The role of the science team, she explained, is to formulate the questions and objectives which the engineers will base their designs on. Sara’s team then ensures that the design and instruments used in building the probe will fulfil the scientific requirements and objectives set for them.
“The science team will then oversee the development of the instrument. The data being offered by the instrument needs to be tested before going to launch and post-launch. The science team is the initial team that makes sure the data from the instruments is healthy so it is validated to base research on.”
Sara said the data collected will be shared freely with the international Mars science community.
Another aspect that Sara and her team are a part of is educational outreach.
“The education public outreach team managed to secure four positions in two very prestigious science research programmes in the US — at University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Colorado, Baltimore. They are going to take part in high-ranking science programmes with scientists who are considered to be at the top at their field in planetary science research so, hopefully, one day those students can be part of the Mars team.”
Sara said part of the criteria for their selection is how the candidates plan on using what they have learnt once they are back home. “They will go back to their universities and either complete the project with a larger group within one of their courses or spread awareness with regard to science research. We choose individuals based on how passionate they are, how they will impact their communities and how they will spread the knowledge they gain.”
Developing a science and technology sector
Sara said developing a science and technology sector is another objective her team is trying to fulfil.
“Portions of the science team are representatives [students and staff] from our universities here in the UAE. They will have frequent updates by the Mars team and will have access to the data early on to better understand what the data coming from the Mars mission will look like and what kind of research they can do.”
Sara said the universities that have a seat on the science team include the American University of Sharjah, Khalifa University, Masdar Institute, UAE University, New York University Abu Dhabi and University of Sharjah.
“We don’t want to end the UAE’s contribution in 2020. We want the universities here to start doing research on that data and to start publishing and to be seen in international conferences and journals and publications.”
Suhail Al Mheiri
Deputy project manager and head of the Space Craft Development team.
As project manager, Al Mheiri works with the spacecraft development team who will be responsible for delivering the space craft and the instrument.
Al Mheiri was part of the team at the Emirates Institution for Advanced Science and Technology, which worked on the development of DubaiSat-1 in South Korea and DubaiSat-2. In addition to working on the Emirates Mars Mission, his team is currently working on the development of KhalifaSat.
“The current stage we are approaching is the design milestone, so we are doing studies on the design of different aspects and we are also finalising the instrument requirement.”
Though an entire Mars Mission usually takes longer than seven years to complete, Al Mheiri said he is 100 per cent confident his team will be able to deliver.
“The Emirates Mars Mission will add to the country’s prestige. We are putting our stamp on the design, developments and decision making; we are not just buying from the market. We want to be creative and want to create more scientists and engineers,” he said.
Mars Probe will not be launched from the UAE
Al Mheiri said the UAE Mars Probe will not be launched from the UAE due to different factors.
“The Mars Probe will be launched from different launcher pads. The locations are not yet been announced because we are still doing research. The launch platform is usually outsourced because there are a lot of experienced providers and their locations are quite ideal — mostly equatorial. Also, the continuous launchers have to be ocean-based.”
Al Mheiri holds a bachelor’s degree in computer science from the American University of Sharjah and was awarded a masters in Aerospace Engineering from Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology in South Korea.
“As a child, I was interested in renewable energy. I even made an amateur solar panel using two plates of copper. This mission will have a huge impact in creating future scientists. We are exciting the community and making them aware of science.”
Al Mheiri, who now speaks fluent Korean, said his main culture shock was the food.
“My first lunch in the country was raw fish. I had never eaten it in my life. It was a breakthrough. After that, I never had a problem eating anything ever again.”
Al Mheiri hopes the Emirates Mars Mission will open the doors for more deep space missions in the future.
Saeed Al Gergawi
Part of the strategic planning team, in charge of education and media outreach.
“Our job is to ensure that all the effects of this mission are lasting and sustainable. We work with universities on developing space science, technology and engineering research initiatives that will not only help this mission but make sure that we will have excellent capabilities for future missions.
Among the initiatives created by the team is the Nayif-1 Cube Sat developed in collaboration with seven Emirati engineers from the American University of Sharjah. Nayif-1 Cube Sat is a satellite in the nano satellite category, which gives the students the opportunity of experiencing all the steps it takes to build a satellite and launch it in space.
“It is part of their final project; it is part training and part learning about what it takes to build something that will go into space. The students started working on building the engineering module of the satellite last week. So instead of travelling abroad to gain this experience, we are building capabilities here at home.”
Al Gergawi, who studied management in the US at Eastern Michigan University, said the students are expected to send the Nayif-1 Cube to space next year and, once they do so, they will be the first Emirati university team to send something into space.
He stressed the importance of investing in space, saying that it is a very inclusive field.
“To build a spaceship, you need mechanical engineers, electrical engineers; you need every school of thought in engineering to send it into space. Our job now is to ensure that there are programmes to support the mission and support the industry as we move away from oil.”
Leader of the Emirates Mars Mission Strategic Planning team
Adnan Al Rais
Deputy Project Manager and leader of the Ground Station team
Khulood Al Harmoodi
Deputy Project Manager and team leader of the Product Assurance and Logistics team
Noor Al Teneiji
Mohammad Abdul Rahim
Launch Segment Lead
Abdul Rahim has a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from the American University of Sharjah and a masters in Aerospace Engineering from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology.
Zakareyya Al Shamsi
Deputy Project Manager and leader of Mission Operations
Al Shamsi has a bachelor’s degree in Computer Engineering from Khalifa University of Science. He gained his masters in Aerospace Engineering (Space Systems) from Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, Daejeon, South Korea in 2013.