Mars City
Mars city Image Credit: Twitter/Dubai Media Office

Dubai: The UAE launches the Arab world's first mission to Mars in the early hours of Friday, but why and what for? Here are the particulars of this latest space venture from the nation that put its first astronaut into space just ten months ago.

What is the Hope Probe?

The UAE’s Hope Probe (Al Amal in Arabic) is the first Arab interplanetary mission. It is designed to orbit Mars and provide the first-ever complete picture of Martian atmosphere.

Hope Probe will begin its journey to Mars on July 17 at exactly 00:43:00am (UAE time) from Japan’s Tanegashima Space Centre (TNSC) aboard Mitsubishi Heavy Industries’ H-IIA rocket.

The date is within the so-called launch window that lasts for about a month every two years when Earth and Mars are closest together.

His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, said Hope Probe is an accomplishment for every Arab and a source of pride for every Emirati. Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, added it represents a message of hope and optimism to mankind. The space mission is aimed at serving humanity.

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The Hope Probe Image Credit: Supplied

What is the mission?

Hope Probe will study the dynamics of Martian atmosphere. It is touted as the first true-weather satellite at Mars that will provide a complete view of Martian atmosphere and help answer key questions such as why Mars lets out its hydrogen and oxygen gases into space.

Hope Probe will study the weather system of Mars, monitoring, for the first time, weather changes throughout the day, across the planet and during all seasons. It will observe weather phenomena such as dust storms, as well as changes in temperature and atmosphere that will reveal the causes of Martian surface corrosion.

Moreover, it will monitor the distribution of hydrogen and oxygen in the upper portions of Mars’ atmosphere (exosphere) and study the link between weather changes in the lower atmosphere with loss of hydrogen and oxygen in the upper atmosphere. This process may have been responsible for Mars’ transition – over billions of years – from a thick atmosphere capable of sustaining liquid water on the surface to the present cold, thin and arid atmosphere.

Mars City
Artists impression of a planned colony on Mars by 2117 Image Credit: Dubai Media Office

Why study Mars?

Hope Probe is expected to collect more than 1,000GB of new data, which will be shared with more than 200 academic and scientific institutions around the world for free.

By studying the connection between current Martian weather and the ancient climate of the Red Planet, scientists will have deeper insights into the past and future of the Earth as well as the potential for human settlement on Mars and other planetary objects.

Scientists will understand the weather and learn how Mars lost some of its atmosphere over billions of years of its planetary history. Substantial geophysical evidence suggests that Mars was once a much warmer and more humid world, with a lot of liquid water on its surface that could have been optimal for some form of life to evolve.

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Artists impression of the Hope Probe circling Mars Image Credit: Supplied

Why is UAE sending a spacecraft to Mars?

To improve the quality of life on earth by pushing the limits to make new discoveries; to encourage global collaboration in Mars exploration; to demonstrate leadership in space research; to build Emirati capabilities in the field of interplanetary exploration; to build scientific knowledge; to inspire future Arab generations to pursue space science; to establish the UAE’s position as a beacon of progress in the region.

How long will the mission be?

Mars rotates on its axis, completing one rotation every 24.6 hours. Martian days are called Sols (short for solar day). Hope Probe will orbit Mars for one whole Martian year that lasts 669.6 sols or equivalent to 687 Earth days or about two Earth years.

Hope Probe will have two years of science operations beginning May 2021, with a possibility of extending until 2025.

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Model of the rocket that will send the Hope Probe into space. Image Credit: AFP

How long is the journey from Earth to Mars?

It will be a 495-million kilometre journey to reach and orbit Mars. The voyage will take around 200 days at a cruising speed of 121,000km/hour.

Hope Probe is expected to enter Mars’ orbit in February next year, coinciding with the UAE’s golden jubilee celebrations.

Who built Hope Probe?

Hope Probe was built by a team of 150 Emirati engineers who collaborated with American engineers and scientists at three US universities, including University of Colorado, University of California Berkeley and Arizona State University.

It cost around $200 million (Dh735.6 million), which is considered among the lowest in the world when compared with similar programmes.

The Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) has been 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.

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The Hope Probe will carry with it the UAE Nation Brand’s logo and its accompanying slogan, 'Make it Happen' when the spacecraft built by the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre takes off for Mars later this year. The brand’s placement on the probe, called 'Al-Amal' in Arabic, symbolizes the future-forward aspirations that the new brand represents.

Hope Probe timeline

  • 2014- Announcement of the mission
  • 2015 - Preliminary design
  • 2016 - Review of preliminary
  • 2017 - Critical design review
  • 2018 - Development and assembly
  • 2019 - Testing
  • 2020 - Launch and cruise
  • 2021 - Mars orbit and science operations (until 2023)
  • 2024 - Extended science operations

Hope Probe specs and speed

Hope Probe is a compact spacecraft whose overall size and weight are comparable to a small car. It weighs 1,500kg when fuelled up. Its structure is cubical, it's made out of aluminum with a composite face-sheet. It measures 2.37 metres wide and 2.9 metres long, while it is 3mX7.9m when the two solar panels are stretched wide open.

It has two solar panel wings affixed to the top platform that will provide 600 watts to charge batteries of the spacecraft.

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Preparations for the launch. Image Credit: MHI Launch Services

It has a 1.5 metre high-gain directional dish antenna to allow communication rates of 1.6Mbps at the minimum Earth-Mars distance to 250 kbps at its furthest point. There are also three low-gain antennas.

Hope Probe will blast off from Earth aboard a launcher rocket before it detaches and accelerates into deep space. It will reach a speed of 126,000kph on its 495-million km journey to Mars, which will take around 200 days.

Propulsion is provided by four to six 120-N thrusters mounted on the bottom of the spacecraft while positional and orientation knowledge is provided by star trackers and coarse Sun sensors.

Scientists working on the Hope Probe
Scientists working on the Hope Probe Image Credit: Supplied

How Hope Probe will study Mars?

Hope Probe will study the Martian atmosphere from a science orbit of 20,000 km periapsis (the point which it is nearest to the body that it orbits) and 43,000 km apoapsis (the high point in an orbit), with an orbital period of 55 hours and an orbital inclination of 25.

No other Mars spacecraft has had such an orbit; most orbit at a single local time that allows the atmosphere to be measured at only one time of day but Hope Probe will do this for the entire Martian year.

Three advanced scientific instruments are mounted on Hope Probe that will work simultaneously to observe Mars atmosphere.

  1. Emirates eXploration Imager (EXI) is a multiband camera that will capture 12 mega-pixel resolution pictures of Mars and study the planet’s lower atmosphere. It will also measures the distribution of water ice and ozone in the lower atmosphere utilising the ultraviolet bands.
  2. Emirates Mars Infrared Spectrometer (EMIRS) will observe Mars in the infrared band and measure the optical depth of dust, ice clouds and water vapour in the atmosphere. It will also measure the temperature of the surface and the lower atmosphere of Mars.
  3. Emirates Mars Ultraviolet Spectrometer (EMUS) will study the upper atmosphere of Mars through the far-ultraviolet wavelengths. It will determine the distribution of carbon monoxide and oxygen in the thermosphere. EMUS will also measure the distribution of oxygen and hydrogen in the exosphere of Mars.
Mars Image Credit: Agency

Why explore the Red Planet?

Mars is the second-smallest planet in the solar system and the fourth planet from the sun. Other than our Earth, Mars is the most explored planet in our solar system.

Humans have been exploring these fundamental questions: Did Mars once have life on it? What is the climate history of Mars? How did Mars evolve from its original state? Should Mars be the next destination for humans?

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Preparations for the launch. Image Credit: MHI Launch Services.

Mars is also called the ‘Red Planet’ because it appears in the sky as an orange-red star. But the planet’s appearance is actually due to rust in the Martian rocks.

Nothing compares to the harsh environment of Mars. However, there are a few places on Earth that can give us a glimpse of the Martian environment. These are Death Valley in California, Haughton Impact Crater in Canadian High Artic and volcanoes in Hawaii.

Misssion (im)possible

Unmanned missions to Mars began in the 1960s. There have been 56 Mars missions so far, of which only 26 have been successful — a testament to the difficulty in reaching the Red Planet.

There are currently eight active Mars Missions, but Hope Probe is the first Arab interplanetary exploration.

Here are some of the earlier Mars missions

  • Mariner 4 - Launched on November 28, 1964 to collect the first close up photographs of Mars
  • Mariner 6 and 7 - Launched on 1969 as the first dual mission to Mars that flew over its equator and south polar regions
  • Mariner 9 - Launched on May 30, 1971 as the first artificial satellite of Mars
  • Viking Project (Viking 1 and 2) Launched in 1975 and was the first mission to land a spacecraft safely on Mars
  • Mars Pathfinder - Launched on December 4, 1996 as the first robotic rover on Mars
  • Mars Global Surveyor - Launched on November 7, 1996. Observed that Mars has weather pattern
  • 2001 Mars Odyssey - Launched on April 7, 2001 and made the first global map of the composition of Martian surface
  • Mars Express - Launched on June 2, 2003 to search for sub-surface water from orbit
  • Mars Science Laboratory (Curiosity Rover) - Launched on November 26, 2011. to answer the question: Did Mars ever have the right conditions to support life?
  • Mangalyaan (Mars Orbiter Mission) Launched on November 5, 2013 by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) to test its interplanetary tech capabilities, and various flight and communications systems. It is also the cheapest Mars mission to date, costing only $73 million.
  • Maven - Launched on November 18, 2013 to understand the climate change on the Red Planet
  • ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter - Launched in 2016 as the first in a series of joint missions between the European Space Agency and Russia’s Roscosmos. Researchers hope to gain a better understanding of methane and other trace gases present in the Martian atmosphere that could be evidence for possible biological activity.
  • InSight Lander, 2018 - Launched in May 2018 to study the core of Mars and observe any possible seismic activity on the planet’s surface. It is hoped the data collected will lead to a better understanding of how rocky planets such as Earth, Mars, Venus, and Mercury are formed.

There are seven confirmed missions, including Hope Probe, through 2024, and at least a dozen until mid-2040s. Here are some of them:

  • Perseverance Rover, 2020 - Launch is scheduled between July 17 and August 5, 2020, and it is expected to touch down in Jezero crater on Mars on February 18, 2021. This upcoming NASA mission aims to study Martian astrobiology. The rover will collect samples of rocks, minerals, and other materials on Mars and return them to Earth in a later mission.
  • Tianwen-1, 2020 – China’s National Space Science Center is preparing to launch in July 2020. The mission’s planned payload includes an orbiter, a lander, and a rover.
  • Rosalind Franklin, 2022 - The launch window was moved from 2018 to July 2020 due to production delays, and then delayed again due to coronavirus in March 2020. The launch is currently set for 2022.
  • Tera-hertz Explorer (TEREX), 2022 - The orbiter (TEREX-2) was supposed to launch in 2022 but moved to 2024. It will study the atmosphere to better understand the chemical reactions that resupply the Martian atmosphere with carbon dioxide.
  • Mangalyaan 2 (Mars Orbiter Mission 2), 2024 - There has been no official announcement of the launch date, but it is expected to be around 2024. Mangalyaan 2 is the Indian Space Research Organization’s follow-up to its initial interplanetary mission to Mars.
  • Martian Moons Exploration (MMX), 2025 - Japan plans to send a probe to Mars’ largest moon Phobos in 2025. It will land on Phobos, collect samples, and also observe the smaller moon Deimos and Mars’ climate during flybys of both. The probe will then send the samples back to Earth. they are expected to arrive in July 2029.

What happens on launch day?

A team of Emirati engineers is stationed at Tanegashima Space Centre and another group will be at the mission control room inside the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre in Dubai.

Hope Probe will be carried by a 53-metre long and 289-tonne H-IIA rocket (launch vehicle No. 42) manufactured by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

Weather will play a crucial role during the launch. Several rocket launches have been postponed in the past due to inclement weather. There will be an hourly weather check during launch day to determine the go/no-go decision for the launch.

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In transit to the launch site. Image Credit: MHI Launch Services.

After final checks and getting the go signal, the two-stage rocket will blast-off from the launch pad at 1,100 kilonewtons of thrust. It will soar up at speed of up to 34,082km/hour.

The rocket fairing (nose cone) will be jettisoned and around one hour after launch, the spacecraft (Hope Probe) will separate from the launcher, and around six to eight minutes after separation, Hope Probe will deploy its solar panels. These panels will be adjusted so they point towards the sun and start collecting power to charge the batteries.

Approximately 30 minutes after separation, Hope Probe will send its first signal from space to the operations room at MBRSC, via an antenna in Madrid, which is part of the Deep Space Network communications system.

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Preparations for the launch. Image Credit: MHI Launch Services.

MBRSC will check the health of Hope Probe and ensure the solar panels are facing the sun properly.

The operations centre in Dubai will then be able to control Hope Probe remotely as it makes way to the Red Planet.

Where to watch?

The launch of Hope Probe will mark as the first time in space exploration history that the countdown for a space mission will be done in Arabic.

Hope Probe, which will begin its journey to Mars on July 175 at exactly 00:43:00am (UAE time) from Japan, will be streamed live on