Dubai: It has been nearly 7 months that we are hit with anxiety and serious disturbance as the world, including the UAE, faces coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. People are worried if we would ever come back to normal, see developments picking up, or get another chance to achieve our ambitions. But I have some good news, one country is still on track and on schedule to achieve its another space ambition…the United Arab Emirates. Until today, only a few great nations have launched probes and rovers to Mars such as the Soviet Union (Russia Federation), the United States of America, China and India, and many have failed.
On 15th of July 2020 history will be written again by the UAE as it becomes the first Arab country to launch a fully home-grown probe from the Tanegashima Space Centre, Japan to Mars; and all within the set schedule and within the set tight budget. This will bring a new era of space exploration, a global academic partnership, and a sense of great accomplishment for a country that is not even 50 years old.
Emirates Mars Mission (EMM)
The Hope Probe is important not only for the UAE but also for the exploration of Mars, the probe will relay back a wealth of information about the Martian atmosphere that we never knew before.
We will learn more about the Martian seasonal cycles, dust storms, and the climate change which made Mars go from having oceans to an atmosphere being so thin that water can only be held as vapor or solid ice. The data from this mission will be shared with more than 200 universities and scientific research centers freely around the world. Some quick facts about the EMM:
- 150 Emirati engineers, scientists and technicians have worked on this mission
- The distance that the Probe will cover between Mars and Earth is approximately 493.5 million km
- 6 years of work has been put on this mission after President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan announced it in 2014
- Launch: 15th July 2020 at 20:51:27 UTC (12:51:27 AM UAE Time)
- The Probe is scheduled to arrive at Mars in February 2021
There are many risks associated with this mission specially when there is a 7-month of interplanetary travel time is involved. “Let’s be honest here—50% of missions to Mars fail, the journey is risky—one mistake in your trajectory and you’re going to miss Mars. A single mistake in the launcher makes it all go away,” said Omran Sharaf, EMM Project Manager of Emirates Mars Mission. The other factor to consider is that the Earth and Mars align once every 2 years, giving us a very small launch window that makes this mission even harder.
So, what is so dangerous about this specific launch window? According to Jamie Carter, a science contributor on Forbes.com, it’s all about celestial mechanics, which means that every 2.2 years a launch window opens for efficient, cost-effective rides between Earth and Mars, and vice versa. It takes 365 days for Earth to orbit the Sun and a slower 687 days for Mars. That is 1.88 Earth years, which puts Mars and Earth reasonably close to an orbital resonance of 2:1.
So just over every two years Earth catches-up on Mars and the planets briefly line-up. At that point they are closest together. And just before that point the journey between the two planets takes the least amount of time.
During the development of EMM our local talent has learnt a great deal about advanced robotics. We have developed one of the most advanced machines (the Probe) which is self-sustaining and fully autonomous, and capable of solving its own problems without any help from any other machine or humans back on Earth. Afterall, this is our “Emirati Cassini”. This learning has given us so much experience and know-how that we can now confidently work on the most advanced robotics in the world here in the UAE.
Many people doubted when the UAE announced sending the first Emirati to the space, but our ambitions were stronger than doubts, and Hazza Al Mansoori became the first Arab and Emirati to visit the ISS (International Space Station). I wrote about this back in September 2019. And yet today, some people again doubt the UAE would when we are announcing our mission to Mars, but we will do it again!
Ammar Sajwani is a 13-year old Emirati student with interests in space, astronomy and tech; you can reach him on: Ammarsajwani4@gmail.com