Dubai: The young cadres of Emirati engineers at Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) are confident of a successful Mars orbit insertion (MOI) for Hope Probe on February 9, that will make the UAE only the fifth country or entity in the world to reach Mars.
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 widely miss its orbit and get lost in deep space. Gulf News visited the Emirates Mars Mission (EMM) command centre at MBRSC in Dubai days before the MOI. The mood of the Emirati engineers, scientists and analysts can be described as a mix of excitement, guarded anxiety and cautious confidence.
Ali Juma Al Suwaidi, FlatSat engineer, told Gulf News: “It is actually hard to measure the exact level of confidence in the MOI as our project director (Omran Sharaf) has earlier said around 50 per cent of Mars missions have failed – some have failed at launch while others during cruise and at arrival.”
“But we are confident as we have been running thousands of tests and simulations and we have been closely monitoring the spacecraft that has been cruising in deep science for almost seven months now,” he added.
On Monday, Hope Probe is around 14 million kms away from Mars atmosphere, after travelling more than 467Mkms at cruise speed of 78,684km/hr. It has successfully conducted four trajectory correction manoeuvres (TCM) and the spacecraft is in good health.
Al Suwaidi said: “Personally, I have mixed feelings — I’m very happy to have this opportunity to be part of the trailblazing team but I’m also very anxious reaching this point. Everything relies on the window of 30 minutes (for the MOI).”
Hope Probe simulation
Even before Hope Probe was launched in space, numerous simulations have been conducted at MBRSC to test the integrity of the spacecraft. Al Suwaidi is the one in-charge of the FlatSat, a large motherboard where modules were installed, similar to a real satellite. It was used to test the instruments, telemetry database and properties of Hope Probe.
“Throughout the seven-month cruise in deep space, we have also simulated the capabilities of Hope Probe prior to its Mars approach. We need the right timing and speed to avoid crashing into Mars or be lost in space,” added Al Suwaidi, who took electrical engineering at Khalifa University before studying aerospace engineering at University of Colorado Boulder in the United States.
‘Success is within our grasp’
Omar Abdelrahman Hussain, Lead mission design and Navigation engineer, is likewise confident of Hope Probe mission success is within reach. He said: “Several missions have failed and we took lessons from them to innovate and mitigate any failures of our mission.”
Hussain, a computer engineer who graduated from Khalifa University in Sharjah and has been working with MBRSC since the launch of KhalifaSat, said they have done their Monte Carlo Simulation, a highly precise computer-based quantitative risk analyses.
He assured: “The simulations for Hope Probe journey from Earth to Mars were done at least a million times and we are still iterating the same design we have five years ago. It has been a long process and very tedious process but the design is very robust. Although the failure rate traditionally is 50 per cent, I believe success is within our grasp.”
Hussain said contingencies have been put in place for the crucial MOI, including safe margins as there will be an 11-minute communication delay with Hope Probe. During approach, Hope Probe will fire its six Delta V thrusters to rapidly reduce the speed of the spacecraft from 121,000 km/hr to 18,000 km/hr to enter Mars’ orbit. The EMM team will not be able to send any live command and will rely monitoring Hope Probe via three antennas spread across Canberra, Australia; Madrid, Spain and Goldstone, California, United States.
Hope probe has only one shot of doing the Mars orbit insertion. There is no do-over. But Hussain reiterated: “We are very excited; we did rehearsals to get it right. We are confident and we just need to trust our design.”
Why study Mars
Hope Probe (Al Amal in Arabic), the first Arab interplanetary mission to Mars that was launched from Japan’s Tanegashima Space Centre on July 20 last year, is expected to reach the Red Planet’s orbit on February 9 at 7.42pm (UAE time).
Hope Probe is the realisation of the 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.
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Maryam Yousuf, Hope Probe Science data analyst, told Gulf News: “Our goal is to study the diurnal (daily) data and investigate the atmosphere of Mars, which has never been done before. Hope Probe will collect and share 1 terabyte of Mars data for free with the international science community to spread scientific knowledge and for the benefit of humanity.”
Yousuf, who finished Biomedical engineering from Khalifa University in Abu Dhabi, said: “Studying Mars atmosphere will help us understand the atmosphere of other planets and provide a more comprehensive understanding of Earth’s weather. Having day to night coverage of Mars atmosphere will give us advantage of knowing what happened to Mars’ ancient wet environment which has now become dry. We will also observe Mars weather phenomena, including its massive dust storms and compare these with dust storms here on Earth.”