Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, and His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, being given updates on the Hope Probe mission. Image Credit: Dubai Media Office

Dubai: His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of UAE and Ruler of Dubai, and His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, met on Monday and reviewed the final preparations of the Emirates Mars Mission (EMM) team as Hope Probe is a few days away from reaching Mars orbit.

Hope Probe (Al Amal in Arabic), the first Arab interplanetary mission that was launched from Japan’s Tanegashima Space Centre on July 20, 2020, is expected to reach the Red Planet’s atmosphere on February 9 at 7.42pm (local time). Its successful arrival to Mars will make the UAE only the fifth country or entity in the world to reach Mars, after the United States, former Soviet Union, China, India, and European Space Agency; and also the third country to make accomplish the feat on first attempt.

Sheikh Mohammed tweeted in Arabic: “Today I met my brother Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed. We discussed national issues and we were informed by Sarah Al Amiri, chair of the UAE Space Agency, about the team’s latest preparations for the arrival of the Hope Probe to Mars on February 9, after a flight of 493 million km. (This) is a historic event to begin our country's golden jubilee celebrations.”

Sheikh Mohamed also tweeted: “My brother Mohammed bin Rashid and I discussed our national achievements, particularly in space and science, and our pride in the nation’s youth. We learned from Sarah Al-Amiri about the progress of the Hope probe as it nears Mars. We wish you all success on this historic journey.”

Mars orbit insertion

The Mars orbit insertion (MOI) is the most challenging part of the mission, where precision is key to success. If Hope Probe goes too fast or too slow, it will either crash on Mars or miss its orbit and get lost in deep space. As it approaches Mars’ orbit, it will do a 30-minute fuel burn using its thrusters and reduce its speed from 121,000kph to 18,000kph.

Complete study of Mars atmosphere

Hope Probe is the realisation of UAE’s ambitious space programme and its arrival in Mars is in line with the country’s golden jubilee celebration. After entering Mars’ orbit, Hope Probe will then transition to Science phase. This is when it will commence with its mission to build the first complete structure of the Martian atmosphere using its three advanced scientific instruments that will take pictures of the Red Planet's atmosphere for one Martian year or around two Earth years.

First to reach Mars

During the meeting on Monday, where both leaders also discussed a number of strategic and national plans, Sarah Al Amiri, Minister of State for Advanced Technology and Chair of the UAE Space Agency, presented the last stages of the Hope Probe’s journey.

Hope Probe is set to reach Mars first among the three space missions expected to arrive at the Red Planet this month. Based on live tracking on Monday, Hope Probe is around 14million kms away from Mars atmosphere, after travelling more than 467M kms at cruise speed of 78,684km/hr. It has successfully conducted four trajectory correction manoeuvres (TCM) and the spacecraft is in good health.

Hope Probe will reach Mars first, followed by China’s Tianwen-1 dual orbiter-rover on February 10, while NASA’s Perseverance rover will make a landing attempt in an area on Mars on February 18. All three Mars missions were launched in July last year.

New frontiers

As the countdown for the Hope Probe’s arrival begins, the UAE leaders invited the public in the UAE and across the region to celebrate the historic mission that represents the Arab world’s breakthrough in space exploration.

Sheikh Mohammed said: “We are 9 days away from making history with our arrival to Mars. The UAE has led the Arab world to new frontiers in deep space for the first time in history. Our space mission carries a message of hope and confidence in Arab youth.”

“The probe has a 50 per cent chance of successfully entering Mars’ orbit, but we have achieved 90 per cent of our goals behind this historic project.”

Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan added: “The Emirates Mars Mission embodies the aspirations that distinguish your country and reflects our leading status in the Arab and Islamic world. Through our journey to Mars, we will explore new horizons towards a better future.”

“The UAE’s arrival to Mars was the dream of the late UAE founder His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. Our investment in the human capital proved worthwhile as we see our youth capable of reaching the stars. “We are proud of our people and we look forward to making a historic contribution to serve humanity,” he underlined.

Mars orbit insertion

After cruising in deep space for seven months, Hope Probe will enter its fourth and most critical stage of its journey, which is the Mars orbit insertion. According to Emirates Mars Mission, this stage will involve firing six Delta V thrusters to rapidly reduce the speed of the spacecraft from 121,000 km/h to 18,000 km/h to enter Mars’ orbit.

Journey to Mars

Hope Probe accelerated away from Earth using its solid-fuel engines. After successful lift off, the first-stage rocket was disconnected, placing the probe into Earth’s orbit before the second-stage launcher pushed the probe on its trajectory towards the Red Planet at a speed in excess of 11km/s, or 39,600km/h, in exact alignment with Mars.

The probe then moved to the next ‘early' operation stage, where an automated sequence 'awakened' the probe instruments. At this point, the central computer was activated and heaters were switched on to prevent the fuel from freezing. Hope Probe then deployed its solar panels and its sensors to locate the sun. It maneuvered to direct the solar panels towards the sun to begin charging the onboard battery. With the power switched on, the first signals from the Hope Probe were detected by the NASA Deep Space Network ground station in Madrid, Spain.

Trajectory correction

The EMM team conducted a series of Trajectory Correction Maneuvers (TCMs) to ensure the probe’s accurate trajectory to Mars. The first two TCMs were performed on August 11, and August 28. And the third one was on November 8, 2020, that gave the team exact time and date of Hope Probe’s arrival on February 9. The instruments were also calibrated using stars to ensure they are ready to operate once they arrive in Mars’ orbit.

Scientific mission

Hope Probe will provide deeper insights on the climatic dynamics of Mars by observing its weather phenomena, including its massive dust storms and compare these with short and localised dust storms on Earth.

The probe will focus on understanding the link between weather changes in Mars’ lower atmosphere, with the loss of hydrogen and oxygen from the upper layers of the atmosphere. It will also study the link between weather change and atmospheric loss, a process that may have caused the Red Planet’s surface corrosion and the loss of its upper atmosphere.

Mars and Earth comparison

Scientists believe exploring the connections between the current Martian weather its ancient climate will give deeper insights into the past and future of Earth and the potential of life on Mars and other distant planets.

Hope Probe will gather and send back 1 terabyte or 1,000 GB of new Mars data to the Science Data Center in the UAE via different ground stations spread around the world. The data will be catalogued and analysed by the EMM science team, and shared for free with the international science community as a service to human knowledge.

“The insights and data we gain from understanding the Martian climate will add new dimensions to human knowledge about how atmospheres work, which will help scientists and researchers evaluate distant worlds for conditions that might support life. Understanding the geographical and climate changes of Mars and the other planets will help us gain deeper insights to find solutions for key challenges facing mankind on earth,” the EMM science team said.

UAE golden age

The idea of Hope Probe was conceived during a UAE cabinet retreat that took place in Sir Baniyas Island in Abu Dhabi at the end of 2013 to brainstorm ways to celebrate the country’s 50th anniversary. Seven months later, on July 16, 2014, His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the President of the UAE, announced that the nation would be going to Mars, issuing a decree to establish the UAE Space Agency.

The Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) was established in 2015 and was tasked with the execution and supervision of all stages of the design, development, and the launch of the Hope Probe, while the UAE Space Agency funded and supervised necessary procedures for the implementation.

MBRSC said in a statement: “The announcement of Hope Probe had set in motion a historic moment not just for the UAE, but the entire Arab world. It had signaled a shift in the development journey of the UAE through its entry to the global space race where the knowledge and capabilities of the UAE nationals and residents are the true wealth of the nation. The project is not only about sending a probe to Mars – it represents greater hope for the region in empowering the youth in the fields of science and technology.”