From left: Adnan Al Rais, programme director, Dr Hamad Al Marzooqi and Takeshi Hakamada during their online conference. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: ‘Rashid’, an Emirati-made lunar rover named after the late Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, will be launched next year, two years ahead of schedule, with prototype testing to commence this summer.

The announcement was made during a press briefing held on Wednesday by Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) and ispace, a Japanese private lunar robotic exploration company that will transport Rashid to the moon.

Rashid was previously announced to be launched in 2024. The exact landing site is yet to be revealed, but the rover will travel to a part of the moon that has never been reached before. Its mission is to better understand how lunar dust and rocks vary across the moon.

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Prototype testing this summer

Dr Hamad Al Marzooqi, project manager of the Emirates Lunar Mission at MBRSC, said more than 50 per cent of the prototype components are ready and testing will commence this summer. “From September (2021) to March (2022), we should finish development and testing of the flight model and the rover will be ready for launch by next year,” he noted.

Takeshi Hakamada, founder and CEO of ispace, did not give a specific date for the launch, but confirmed that Rashid will be one of the payloads that will go to the moon aboard a Space X Falcon rocket before the end of 2022.

UAE Lunar Rover updated
UAE is preparing to send the smallest and the UAE to send the smallest, lightest Emirati made rover ‘Rashid’ to the moon as part of its Lunar Mission. Image Credit: MBRSC/Seyyed Llata

UAE lunar mission

Rashid will be equipped with advanced technologies, including a 3D camera, advanced motion system, sensors, a microscope camera and a thermal imaging camera plus a state-of-the-art communication system. Once on the surface of the moon, it will run on solar panels. Its four cameras will move vertically and horizontally. It will also be equipped with sensors and systems to analyse the properties of soil, dust, radioactivity, electrical activities and rocks on the surface of the Moon.

Rashid will have the distinction of being the smallest rover to have landed on the moon. To be built at a height of 70cm, it will be the lightest lunar rover, weighing approximately 10kg with its payload. Rashid’s length is 50cm while width is 50cm.

This will not only be the first lunar mission from the Arab world but will also make the UAE only the fourth country in the world to land on the moon — after the United States, the former Soviet Union and China.

UAE-Japan space agreement

The UAE and Japan have forged another space pact. Under the recent agreement, ispace will transport Rashid rover to moon aboard a robotic lunar lander called Hakuto-R (Hakuto-Reboot). The private robotic exploration company will also provide wired communication and power as well as wireless communication on the lunar surface.

Hakuto-R will be launched into space aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from US Kennedy Space Centre in Cape Canaveral, Florida next year.

According to MBRSC, the collaboration is “a key part of the UAE’s space exploration strategy, which is centred around building new knowledge capabilities, inspiring future generations to pursue space science and research, and fostering global collaboration.”

“Upon the execution of the mission, the UAE and Japan, together, are anticipated to be the next two nations to successfully put a spacecraft on the lunar surface, following the United States, Russia and China,” the MBRSC added.

Space economy

MBRSC said it selected ispace based on its technological credibility, after a thorough consideration of competing lunar payload delivery service providers. “This cooperation with ispace is yet another exemplification of MBRSC’s unique ability to tap into the best of the global space value chain through strategic collaborations with key partners,” noted MBRSC director-general Yousuf Hamad AlShaibani.

He added: “MBRSC’s commitment towards space research and development has garnered the attention of the world through our various projects. We are now leveraging our advanced scientific and technological hub by partnering with international entities that will aid in creating a new space economy landscape in the country. Our mission at Emirates Lunar Mission is to keep the UAE flag flying high and be at the forefront of countries contributing to scientific achievements that will change the face of humanity.”

From moon to Mars

Adnan AlRais, Mars 2117 Programme Manager and Senior Director Remote Sensing Department at MBRSC, noted deploying a rover to the moon will serve the UAE’s long-term goal of sending humans to Mars and building settlement there.

He added: “Our association with Japan’s ispace is in line with the MBRSC’s ambitious vision of growing a vibrant and sustainable space ecosystem through collaborations and partnerships. The Emirates Lunar Mission represents a milestone in the UAE’s space sector as the mission will contribute towards providing valuable data and information relating to the moon that will serve the global scientific community as well as test capabilities that would be crucial for manned missions to Mars.”

“The world will be watching as our commercial lander carries the ‘Rashid’ rover to the Moon. We’re pleased to advance collaboration between the UAE and Japan in space exploration, as well as to inspire more collaborations for lunar exploration between the public and commercial sector around the world,” added Hakamada.

100% Emirati-made rover

The Emirates Lunar Mission is part of the new 2021-2031 strategy launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC). His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, had announced on September 29, 2020 that the UAE would launch an Emirati-made rover that would land on the surface of the moon by 2024. The rover was named “Rashid”, after the late Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, the builder of modern Dubai and one of the UAE’s Founding Fathers.

Rashid lunar rover specs

Mass: 10kg

Height: 70cm

Length: 50 cm

Width: 50cm