OPN Rashid Rover
UAE’s pioneering Rashid Rover is ready for next critical stage of its mission, with the Moon landing slated April 25, 2023. Image Credit: Gulf News

Dubai: The UAE’s Rashid Rover to Moon is scheduled to land on Moon’s surface on April 25, a top official revealed on Monday.

The Japanese Lander carrying Rashid Rover has travelled 1.6 million kilometres and is expected to land on April 25, said Salem Al Marri, director general of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre.

Space ops
Salem Al Marri, director general of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre, speaking at SpaceOps 2023 in Dubai on Monday/

He was speaking at a Plenary Session during the inaugural day of the 17th International Conference on Space Operations (SpaceOps 2023) in Dubai.

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While giving an overview about the UAE’s space programmes, Al Marri gave the latest update about the Emirates Lunar Mission.

“We are on the way to the Moon as we speak,” said Al Marri.

“We have traveled about 1.6 million kilometers. And now we're looking back on the Japanese lander, hoping to land on April 25.”

Ispace, the company that built the Hakuto-R Mission 1 lander, said last week the lander had entered the second phase of its mission.

Space ops
A model of the Rashid Rover on display at SpaceOps 2023.

“The lander is now on a trajectory to the Moon with a scheduled landing for the end of April 2023,” the company had said.

MBRSC lunar mission
The ELM team at work at MBRSC in Dubai Image Credit: Supplied
Rashid’s journey so far
Designed and built by Emiratis, the Rashid Rover was launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, USA, on December 11, 2022.

The Moon-bound rover is safely stored at a special compartment of the lander Hakuto-R. The approach taken by the lander is a low-cost trajectory to reduce the amount of fuel needed to reach the Moon, according to MBRSC.

The lander is expected to attempt a lunar orbit insertion in late March.

If the lander successfully touches down on the Moon’s surface, it will become the first commercial lander to achieve that feat.

Weighing just 10kg, the exploration rover aims to study the geography of the lunar surface as well as lunar soil, or regolith.

Moon-bound missions

In the session titled “International Collaborations on Space Missions”, Al Marri said that that MBRSC wanted to cooperate with partners from different countries since the beginning and at the same time wanted to contribute as well.

He said the UAE would be “really looking at the moon” in the next decade.

“The moon is a big destination for us whether it is robotic or anything related to what’s happening with Artemis, and that’s all about international integration.”

The Artemis programme is a robotic and human Moon exploration programme led by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) of the US along with three partner agencies: European Space Agency, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and Canadian Space Agency.

The UAE Space Agency was among the first signatories of NASA’s Artemis Accords in 2020 that aims to create a safe and transparent environment that facilitates exploration, science and commercial activities for the benefit of all humanity.

The UAE acceding to the Artemis Accords is expected to pave the way for sending the first Emirati astronaut to the Moon in future.

The French connection

During the panel discussion, Philippe Baptiste, Chairman and CEO of French space agency National Centre for Space Studies (CNES), said what the MBRSC has achieved in the last 15 years is amazing and he hailed the UAE’s partnership with France for the Rashid Rover.

The French space agency has supplied two cameras to the rover. The sophisticated cameras will enable high-resolution images for the country’s Lunar Mission.

MBZ-Sat and Mars Mission

Speaking further about the UAE’s space explorations, Al Marri said.

“We can’t only look out to the Moon, we’re also looking at Earth. So, we’re planning a series of satellites, the first being the MBZ-Sat.

Dubbed the region’s most advanced imaging satellite, the MBZ-Sat is named after the UAE President His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

It is expected to be carried into orbit this year on a SpaceX ride-share mission on board a Falcon 9 rocket.

It is the second Earth-observation satellite to be built entirely by Emirati engineers. The first was KhalifaSat, which was launched in 2018.

Al Marri said MBZ-Sat has a very high resolution imagery, lower than 40 centimetres, which can be used for various purposes.

“It supports tracking any environmental changes, aspects that affect in terms of climate change etc.”

Al Marri also highlighted the UAE’s Mars 2117 project that aims to build the knowledge and scientific capabilities that will enable the country to realise humankind’s universal dream of the very first sustainable colony on the Red Planet within the next 100 years.

While the first part of the Emirates Mars Mission is going on successfully with the Hope Probe to Mars, Al Marri said the UAE will continue to explore international partnerships for its Mars exploration as well.

ISS and Artemis partners

Badri Younes, NASA’s Deputy Associate Administrator for Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN), who moderated the panel discussion, pointed out that international partnership is the hallmark of the International Space Station (ISS) built by five partners.

With the successful launch of the second Emirati astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi to ISS on March 2, the UAE recently became the first ISS non-partner country, the 11th country across the world and the first Arab country to send an astronaut to the microgravity space laboratory for a long-duration space mission.

Younes highlighted that Artemis Accords describes a shared vision and principles grounded in the UN’s Outer Space Treaty of 1967 to create a safe and transparent environment, which facilitates exploration science and commercial activities for all of humanity.

“So far, we have more than 20 countries outside the US [that have ratified the Artemis Accords]. The pool of partners will still grow…So we are going back to the Moon and hopefully from there, we set our journey to learn and to Deep Space, to benefit all humans with the scientific discoveries and the economic benefits and to inspire a new generation,” said Younes.

Talking about the economic benefits, he said many countries have started to realise the benefits of the global space economy.

Space economy in numbers

Speaking about the “very promising” space economy, Younes said the global space economy stood at $469 billion in 2021.

The projected global space activity by 2026 is expected to hit $634 billion, he said.

Quoting the Space Report by the US-based Space Foundation, he added that that there are 90 nations operating in space with a 19% increase in government spending.

Ricardo Conde, President of the Portuguese Space Agency, stated that they were in the space sector primarily because of the need to tackle issues facing their country, especially in terms of sustainability.

SpaceOps is hosted by MBRSC for the first time in the Arab world, under the theme “Invest in Space to Serve Earth and Beyond”.

SpaceOps 2023 will take place from 6-10 March, bringing together stakeholders from the global space sector.

In his speech during the opening ceremony of the conference, Al Marri said the UAE’s passion for space dates back to the 70’s with the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan inspiring us to aim for the stars.

“We accomplished many missions from launching satellites, sending the Hope Probe to Mars’ orbit, the Rashid Rover’s mission on its way to the Moon alongside astronaut missions….The UAE is commited to continue investing in space exploration.”

Adnan Al Rais, Local Organising Committee Chair, MBRSC, said over 560 research papers will be presented showcasing the latest developments in mission planning, astronaut missions, the best practices, among others.

Day 1 of SpaceOps 2023 also featured oral presentations of abstracts and papers that highlight unique and innovative practices, technologies, and experiences that others in the space operations community can benefit from. Additionally, the day included a special session on “Life Science Mission Ops to Space,” which featured presentations by Dr. Cassandra M. Juran from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Department of Aerospace Physiology, USA, Dr. Eliah G. Overbey, a Postdoctoral Associate at Mason Lab Institute for Computational Biomedicine and NASA Space Biology Postdoctoral Fellow at Weill Cornell Medicine, USA, and Prof. Joseph Borg from the Department of Applied Biomedical Science, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Malta, Msida, Malta.

Al Marri said: “Hosting this edition of SpaceOps is a significant milestone for MBRSC as well as the larger Arab region, and it is an honour to be at the forefront of promoting space exploration and innovation on a global scale. This event is not only a reflection of our commitment to advancing the space sector in the UAE and the region, but also our belief in the power of collaboration and inclusivity to achieve great things in the space industry. SpaceOps 2023, with its inclusive and multi-disciplinary approach, will aid in these efforts by providing a platform for development in space technology and capacity building for a diverse group of stakeholders to benefit from space exploration for economic, social, and environmental advancement.”

Adnan Al Rais, Local Organising Committee Chair at MBRSC, said: “The hosting of the prestigious SpaceOps 2023 will encourage new ideas and broaden the boundaries of innovation, which will help advance the space industry in the region and around the world. We also believe that this conference will play an important role in fostering a collaborative space ecosystem, leaving a lasting impression, forming critical alliances, and bridging knowledge gaps with leading international space organisations and agencies for the benefit of humanity. Hosting this prestigious event for the first time in the Arab world underscores the UAE’s commitment to the development and growth of the space industry in the region and around the world.”

Discussing the frontiers of space

Over the coming days, the forum will feature plenary sessions on various other topics, including Space Traffic Management – Needs and Solutions, Lunar Communications and International Interoperability, and Planetary Defense, with speakers from global agencies such as NASA, ESA, SANSA, and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, as well as academic and research institutes and space technology organisations.

Sami W. Asmar, General Secretary of the Consultative Committee for Space Data Systems and its NASA delegate as well as Liaison to the Interagency Operations Advisory Group, will be the keynote speaker at the conference, speaking on the topic, “Standards and Interoperability for Space Missions Success.” The MBRSC team will also participate in a plenary session on the topic “MBRSC Missions: From Earth to Mars passing by Moon.”

Before the start of SpaceOps 2023, the SpaceOps committee, MBRSC, and the Space Generation Advisory Council organised the “Students and Young Professionals” programme. The programme was attended by youth from the UAE and around the world and included student workshops, a discussion on women in SpaceOps, speed mentoring, and a technical hour.