Dubai: Following a successful launch, the UAE’s Hope Probe is in a healthy state and cruising safely towards Mars, Omran Sharaf, project manager of Emirates Mars Mission (EMM) announced during a press briefing on Monday.
The official briefed reporters after Hope Probe reached its space orbit one hour after it took off from Japan’s Tanegashima Space Centre (TNSC) in the early hours of July 20, after two cancellations on July 15 and July 17 due to bad weather.
The first Arab interplanetary mission was sent to space at 1.58am on Monday aboard Mitsubishi Heavy Industries’ H-IIA rocket. Hope Probe was successfully separated from the rocket at 2.55am; its solar panels were opened at 3am and were set to face the sun properly.
The UAE Space Agency and Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) announced the first transmission from Hope Probe was received at 3.11am. The ground control team at MBRSC confirmed the solar panels were facing the sun properly and tall systems were working properly.
Hope Probe is a compact spacecraft whose overall size and weight is comparable to a small car. It weighs 1,500 kg when fuelled. Its main structure is cubical, made out of aluminum with composite face-sheet. It measures 2.37 metres wide and 2.9 metre long while it is 3m X 7.9M 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.
It will reach a speed of 126,000kph on its 495-million km journey to Mars, which will take around 200 days.
Sharaf said the team at MBRSC will conduct a “continuous monitoring of Hope Probe in the next two weeks”.
“We will receive all of the telemetry (collection of measurements or other data at remote points) to check its (Hope Probe) health in the next two weeks to measure its health,” said Sharaf, adding: “In the third week (as Hope Probe is cruising to Mars) contact will be two to three times per week, with contact time about six hours each.”
Sharaf also acknowledged Hope Probe will face unknown challenges during its seven-month journey to Mars.
“Like any deep space mission, evaluating the trajectory is not easy. There is no GPS (Global Positioning System) in deep space,” noted Sharaf, adding that the flight course of the spacecraft will be provided by star trackers and coarse sun sensors that will provide information about the position of the sun relative to the spacecraft.
Race to Mars
Aside from the UAE, China and the United States are also sending their own space missions to Mars this summer. Although no exact dates have yet been announced but NASA’s Perseverance Rover and China’s Tianwen 1 are expected to launch until early August this year, while the launch window, which takes place only every two years, is still open.
Speaking to Gulf News during the Hope Probe launch, Dr Ahmad Belhoul Al Falasi, chairman of the UAE Space Agency and Minister of State for Entrepreneurship and Small and Medium Enterprises, said the UAE is actually note racing against US and China to Mars.
“It’s not really a race but a mission for humanity. I think it’s more of a friendly competition. It is good always to compete with others and now the UAE is the first Arabic country that sent a spacecraft to Mars,” he said.
“Space is an area where all countries work together. Competition is good but in the end, it’s all about collaboration and working together,” Al Falasi noted.
Golden age of space exploration
The UAE’s Hope Probe, the first Arab interplanetary mission, will usher in a golden age of space exploration not only for the UAE but also for the Arab world and the entire human race, noted Hussain Al Mahmoudi, CEO of Sharjah Research Technology and Innovation Park (SRTI Park).
He explained: “Hope Probe represents the collective effort of the UAE in developing a viable space programme that will put the country at the forefront of the global space community. It also proves that despite being a young nation, the UAE can achieve scientific breakthrough by prioritising an ambitious agenda in science, engineering and technology.”
Next stop: Mars
Hope Probe is expected to reach Mars orbit in first quarter of next year then it will start its mission of gathering data on Martian atmosphere. It will orbit Mars for an entire Martian year or 687 Earth days.
Engineers at MBRSC said Hope Probe will provide scientists around the world a “deeper insight into the past and future of our own planet as well as the potential of life for humans on Mars and on other distant planets. Data gathered by Hope Probe will be shared with the international science community on key questions that no other mission has addressed before.”