Dubai: The UAE launches the Arab world’s first mission to Mars in the early hours of Monday, but why and what for? Here are the particulars of this latest space venture from the nation that put its first astronaut into space just ten months ago.
What is the Hope Probe?
The UAE’s Hope Probe (Al Amal in Arabic) is the first Arab interplanetary mission. It is designed to orbit Mars and provide the first-ever complete picture of Martian atmosphere.
Hope Probe will begin its journey to Mars in the early hours of July 20 at 1:58am (UAE time) from Japan’s Tanegashima Space Centre (TNSC) aboard Mitsubishi Heavy Industries’ H-IIA rocket. This is the third rearrangement of the launch after cancellations due to rain on July 15 and July 17.
The date is within the so-called launch window that lasts for about a month every two years when Earth and Mars are closest together.
His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, said Hope Probe is an accomplishment for every Arab and a source of pride for every Emirati. Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of Dubai Executive Council, added that it represents a message of hope and optimism to mankind. The space mission is aimed at serving humanity.
Why study Mars?
Hope Probe is expected to collect more than 1,000GB of new data, which will be shared with more than 200 academic and scientific institutions around the world for free.
By studying the connection between current Martian weather and the ancient climate of the Red Planet, scientists will have deeper insights into the past and future of the Earth as well as the potential for human settlement on Mars and other planetary objects.
Scientists will understand the weather and learn how Mars lost some of its atmosphere over billions of years of its planetary history. Substantial geophysical evidence suggests that Mars was once a much warmer and more humid world, with a lot of liquid water on its surface that could have been optimal for some form of life to evolve.
Why is UAE sending a spacecraft to Mars?
To improve the quality of life on earth by pushing the limits to make new discoveries; to encourage global collaboration in Mars exploration; to demonstrate leadership in space research; to build Emirati capabilities in the field of interplanetary exploration; to build scientific knowledge; to inspire future Arab generations to pursue space science; to establish the UAE’s position as a beacon of progress in the region.
How long will the mission be?
Mars rotates on its axis, completing one rotation every 24.6 hours. Martian days are called Sols (short for solar day). Hope Probe will orbit Mars for one whole Martian year that lasts 669.6 sols or equivalent to 687 Earth days or about two Earth years.
Hope Probe will have two years of science operations beginning May 2021, with a possibility of extending until 2025.
How long is the journey from Earth to Mars?
It will be a 495-million kilometre journey to reach and orbit Mars. The voyage will take around 200 days at a cruising speed of 121,000km/hour.
Hope Probe is expected to enter Mars’ orbit in February next year, coinciding with the UAE’s golden jubilee celebrations.
Who built Hope Probe?
Hope Probe was built by a team of 150 Emirati engineers who collaborated with American engineers and scientists at three US universities, including University of Colorado, University of California Berkeley and Arizona State University.
It cost around $200 million (Dh735.6 million), which is considered among the lowest in the world when compared with similar programmes.
The Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) has been responsible for the execution and supervision of all stages of the design, development and launch of the spacecraft while the UAE Space Agency is funding and supervising all procedures.
Hope Probe timeline
- 2014- Announcement of the mission
- 2015 - Preliminary design
- 2016 - Review of preliminary
- 2017 - Critical design review
- 2018 - Development and assembly
- 2019 - Testing
- 2020 - Launch and cruise
- 2021 - Mars orbit and science operations (until 2023)
- 2024 - Extended science operations
Hope Probe specs and speed
Hope Probe is a compact spacecraft whose overall size and weight are comparable to a small car. It weighs 1,500kg when fuelled up. Its structure is cubical, it’s made out of aluminium with a composite face-sheet. It measures 2.37 metres wide and 2.9 metres long, while it is 3 metres X 7.9 metres 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 has a 1.5 metre high-gain directional dish antenna to allow communication rates of 1.6Mbps at the minimum, Earth-Mars distance to 250 kbps at its furthest point. There are also three low-gain antennas.
Hope Probe will blast off from Earth aboard a launcher rocket before it detaches and accelerates into deep space. It will reach a speed of 126,000kph on its 495-million km journey to Mars, which will take around 200 days.
Propulsion is provided by four to six 120-N thrusters mounted on the bottom of the spacecraft while positional and orientation knowledge is provided by star trackers and coarse Sun sensors.
How Hope Probe will study Mars?
Hope Probe will study the Martian atmosphere from a science orbit of 20,000 km periapsis (the point which it is nearest to the body that it orbits) and 43,000 km apoapsis (the high point in an orbit), with an orbital period of 55 hours and an orbital inclination of 25.
No other Mars spacecraft has had such an orbit; most orbit at a single local time that allows the atmosphere to be measured at only one time of day but Hope Probe will do this for the entire Martian year.
Three advanced scientific instruments are mounted on Hope Probe that will work simultaneously to observe Mars atmosphere.
- Emirates eXploration Imager (EXI) is a multiband camera that will capture 12 mega-pixel resolution pictures of Mars and study the planet’s lower atmosphere. It will also measures the distribution of water ice and ozone in the lower atmosphere utilising the ultraviolet bands.
- Emirates Mars Infrared Spectrometer (EMIRS) will observe Mars in the infrared band and measure the optical depth of dust, ice clouds and water vapour in the atmosphere. It will also measure the temperature of the surface and the lower atmosphere of Mars.
- Emirates Mars Ultraviolet Spectrometer (EMUS) will study the upper atmosphere of Mars through the far-ultraviolet wavelengths. It will determine the distribution of carbon monoxide and oxygen in the thermosphere. EMUS will also measure the distribution of oxygen and hydrogen in the exosphere of Mars.
Why explore the Red Planet?
Mars is the second-smallest planet in the solar system and the fourth planet from the sun. Other than our Earth, Mars is the most explored planet in our solar system.
Humans have been exploring these fundamental questions: Did Mars once have life on it? What is the climate history of Mars? How did Mars evolve from its original state? Should Mars be the next destination for humans?
Mars is also called the ‘Red Planet’ because it appears in the sky as an orange-red star. But the planet’s appearance is actually due to rust in the Martian rocks.
Nothing compares to the harsh environment of Mars. However, there are a few places on Earth that can give us a glimpse of the Martian environment. These are Death Valley in California, Haughton Impact Crater in Canadian High Artic and volcanoes in Hawaii.
Unmanned missions to Mars began in the 1960s. There have been 56 Mars missions so far, of which only 26 have been successful — a testament to the difficulty in reaching the Red Planet.
There are currently eight active Mars Missions, but Hope Probe is the first Arab interplanetary exploration.
Here are some of the earlier Mars missions
- Mariner 4 - Launched on November 28, 1964 to collect the first close up photographs of Mars
- Mariner 6 and 7 - Launched on 1969 as the first dual mission to Mars that flew over its equator and south polar regions
- Mariner 9 - Launched on May 30, 1971 as the first artificial satellite of Mars
- Viking Project (Viking 1 and 2) Launched in 1975 and was the first mission to land a spacecraft safely on Mars
- Mars Pathfinder - Launched on December 4, 1996 as the first robotic rover on Mars
- Mars Global Surveyor - Launched on November 7, 1996. Observed that Mars has weather pattern
- 2001 Mars Odyssey - Launched on April 7, 2001 and made the first global map of the composition of Martian surface
- Mars Express - Launched on June 2, 2003 to search for sub-surface water from orbit
- Mars Science Laboratory (Curiosity Rover) - Launched on November 26, 2011. to answer the question: Did Mars ever have the right conditions to support life?
- Mangalyaan (Mars Orbiter Mission) Launched on November 5, 2013 by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) to test its interplanetary tech capabilities, and various flight and communications systems. It is also the cheapest Mars mission to date, costing only $73 million.
- Maven - Launched on November 18, 2013 to understand the climate change on the Red Planet
- ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter - Launched in 2016 as the first in a series of joint missions between the European Space Agency and Russia’s Roscosmos. Researchers hope to gain a better understanding of methane and other trace gases present in the Martian atmosphere that could be evidence for possible biological activity.
- InSight Lander, 2018 - Launched in May 2018 to study the core of Mars and observe any possible seismic activity on the planet’s surface. It is hoped the data collected will lead to a better understanding of how rocky planets such as Earth, Mars, Venus, and Mercury are formed.
There are seven confirmed missions, including Hope Probe, through 2024, and at least a dozen until mid-2040s. Here are some of them:
- Perseverance Rover, 2020 - Launch is scheduled between July 17 and August 5, 2020, and it is expected to touch down in Jezero crater on Mars on February 18, 2021. This upcoming NASA mission aims to study Martian astrobiology. The rover will collect samples of rocks, minerals, and other materials on Mars and return them to Earth in a later mission.
- Tianwen-1, 2020 – China’s National Space Science Center is preparing to launch in July 2020. The mission’s planned payload includes an orbiter, a lander, and a rover.
- Rosalind Franklin, 2022 - The launch window was moved from 2018 to July 2020 due to production delays, and then delayed again due to coronavirus in March 2020. The launch is currently set for 2022.
- Tera-hertz Explorer (TEREX), 2022 - The orbiter (TEREX-2) was supposed to launch in 2022 but moved to 2024. It will study the atmosphere to better understand the chemical reactions that resupply the Martian atmosphere with carbon dioxide.
- Mangalyaan 2 (Mars Orbiter Mission 2), 2024 - There has been no official announcement of the launch date, but it is expected to be around 2024. Mangalyaan 2 is the Indian Space Research Organization’s follow-up to its initial interplanetary mission to Mars.
- Martian Moons Exploration (MMX), 2025 - Japan plans to send a probe to Mars’ largest moon Phobos in 2025. It will land on Phobos, collect samples, and also observe the smaller moon Deimos and Mars’ climate during flybys of both. The probe will then send the samples back to Earth. they are expected to arrive in July 2029.
What happens on launch day?
A team of Emirati engineers is stationed at Tanegashima Space Centre and another group will be at the mission control room inside the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre in Dubai.
Hope Probe will be carried by a 53-metre long and 289-tonne H-IIA rocket (launch vehicle No. 42) manufactured by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.
Weather will play a crucial role during the launch. Several rocket launches have been postponed in the past due to inclement weather. There will be an hourly weather check during launch day to determine the go/no-go decision for the launch.
After final checks and getting the go signal, the two-stage rocket will blast-off from the launch pad at 1,100 kilonewtons of thrust. It will soar up at speed of up to 34,082km/hour.
The rocket fairing (nose cone) will be jettisoned and around one hour after launch, the spacecraft (Hope Probe) will separate from the launcher, and around six to eight minutes after separation, Hope Probe will deploy its solar panels. These panels will be adjusted so they point towards the sun and start collecting power to charge the batteries.
Approximately 30 minutes after separation, Hope Probe will send its first signal from space to the operations room at MBRSC, via an antenna in Madrid, which is part of the Deep Space Network communications system.
MBRSC will check the health of Hope Probe and ensure the solar panels are facing the sun properly.
The operations centre in Dubai will then be able to control Hope Probe remotely as it makes way to the Red Planet.
Where to watch?
The launch of Hope Probe will mark as the first time in space exploration history that the countdown for a space mission will be done in Arabic.
Hope Probe's journey to Mars will be streamed live on https://www.emiratesmarsmission.ae/live/.
Will it return to earth?
It will not return. There is no provision that will carry it back to Earth. Hope Probe is set for one Martian yearorbit (around two Earth years or until 2023) but according to Emirates Mars Mission, Hope Probe may extend its science mission at Mars beyond 2024.
Also, Hope Probe will not bring pieces of Mars to Earth but will transmit 1 Terabyte of Martian atmosphere information.
Meet the people behind the Hope Probe
Six years of perseverance and technological innovation will come to fruition as the UAE’s Hope Probe, the first Arab interplanetary mission, begins its journey to the Red Planet in the early hours of July 20.
Hope Probe (Al Amal in Arabic) will study the planet’s entire atmosphere and the UAE will become only the fifth country in the world to orbit Mars.
Over 200 Emirati engineers, scientists and analysts have collaborated on Hope Probe since it was first announced by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, back in 2014.
Here, we look at some of the men and women – the faces of Hope – who helped build more than a spacecraft but also a “beacon of hope” for all the people of the region to revive a rich history of Arab and Islamic achievements in science.
They have answered the call to build an Emirati space program and helped forge a promising future for humanity from the desert sands of the UAE to Mars and beyond.
Sarah bint Yousif Al Amiri - President of the UAE Space Agency
Minister of State for Advanced Sciences and Science Lead of the Emirates Mars Mission. Sarah was recently appointed as the president of the UAE Space Agency. Earlier she was appointed as Minister of State for Advanced Sciences in October 2017. Her responsibilities include enhancing the contributions of advanced sciences to the development of UAE and its economy.
She is also the Science Lead at Emirates Mars Mission, where she leads the team developing and fulfilling the Mission’s scientific objectives, goals, instrumentation and analysis programmes.
She was previously head of the Advanced Aerial Systems Program at Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre, where she led the design and development of the UAE’s first unmanned aerial system (UAS). She was Programs Engineer on the DubaiSat-1 and DubaiSat-2 projects.
She was also the former head of research and development at the Emirates Institution for Advanced Science & Technology (EIAST), where she established its knowledge management, strategic research and product assurance functionalities
Sarah holds a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree in Computer Engineering from the American University of Sharjah.
She said she has always been interested in aerospace engineering, In November 2017, she became the first Emirati to speak at an international TED event in Louisiana, USA, where she spoke about the Hope Mars Mission.
In a recent interview with international news channel, Euronews, she shared her personal experience with Hope Probe: “For the last six years this has been our every waking, breathing moment. Even while sleeping, in the back of our heads we’re thinking of how to proceed forward, considering the constraints that we had on this mission with both time and budget. As you get closer to it, the emotions that you’re feeling - I can’t describe it. I don’t think I’ve ever personally been in the position where I’ve felt all these multitudes of feelings at such a high level. We’re all really looking forward to getting the spacecraft in the environment.”
Omran Sharaf - Emirates Mars Mission Project Manager
Omran graduated from the University of Virginia with a bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering in 2005 and earned his master’s degree in 2013 from Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology. His dissertation was “A Satellite for Knowledge Economy: Knowledge Transfer in the UAE Space Programme.
He was recruited as the first employee to join the newly established Emirates Institution for Advanced Science and Technology (EIAST) in 2006 working on the Command and Data Handling Subsystem of DubaiSat-1. On EIAST’s second EO mission, DubaiSat-2 Omran worked on the Systems Engineering in addition to the Command & Data Handling Subsystem.
His thoughts on Hope Probe: “The mission would send a powerful message to Arab youth that dreams of space exploration could be achieved…We are actually building the capacity and capability in advanced sciences in the UAE and the region. This is something important for everyone. It will help the region to have stability and a more competitive economy and integrate more with the global community.
Suhail Buti Al Mheiri - EMM Deputy Project Manager and Spacecraft Lead
Suhail leads the UAE team currently stationed at the Tanegashima Space Centre in Japan. He joined MBRSC soon after its foundation as the Emirates Institute for Advanced Sciences in 2006 as a Research Engineer in the Space System Development Department, working on the development of Payload Electronics of DubaiSat-1 and going on to become a Payload System and Electronics Design Engineer.
In 2013, he became the Space System Section Head, managing four engineering units: system engineering; mechanical manufacture; assembly and integration and electronics manufacture. These teams worked on the development of KhalifaSat. In 2014, he became EMM Deputy Project Manager and Spacecraft Lead, responsible for the spacecraft technical design and development as well as engineering teams. He obtained his Bachelor’s in Computer Engineering from the American University of Sharjah in 2006 and his Master’s in Aerospace Engineering (Space Systems) from the University of Daejeon in South Korea in 2013.
Talking about the mission, he said: “We are an integrated team of engineers within the inspection, integration and systems engineering team. As the deputy project manager, it is my responsibility to ensure that the launch vehicle is ready and all communications systems with the ground control are in place. We are working on the project with a unified team spirit and unlimited ambition and passion. The Hope Probe is a testimony to the capabilities of the UAE and the Arab world to accomplish mega projects and important scientific missions.”
Mariam Al Shamsi - Instrument Science Lead
Mariam will study the data and scientific information that will be collected by Hope Probe and made available to everyone via the Emirates Science Data Centre.
She said once the probe begins its mission to explore the Martian atmosphere, the data obtained will be compiled by the Emirates’ Scientific Data Centre and will be available to the international scientific community, “to help them understand the climate and the reasons why the Red Planet has lost part of its atmosphere”.
Hessa Al Matroushi - Science data and analysis lead
Hessa was part of the team that launched Nayif-1, the UAE’s first CubeSat. She was also the former Deputy Project Manager of Nayif-1 at MBRSC. She said: “I think one of the messages of this mission is hope, which is the name of the probe itself. If a small nation like us is able to achieve this kind of mission and get ourselves to Mars, then everything is possible.”
Omar Al Shehhi - Lead for integration and testing of Hope
Omar is one of the engineers who has been working on the mission since the start. He heads the assembly and integration unit at MBRSC, planning, evolving and conducting test procedures and plans for complex systems in spacecraft development. He previously worked as an Avionics engineer with Emirates Airline, and he holds a bachelor’s degree in engineering management from Dubai Men’s College, and a master’s degree in Engineering Management from Abu Dhabi University.
He said: “From the onset of the project, we began working on the designs of electrical and mechanical ground equipment, starting with planning tests on the satellite, and the environments that the Probe faces at different stages, such as the vibrations resulting from the launch environment, high and low thermal environment in space, and the assembly and installation of the probe in coordination with different teams.
Mohamed Al Ameri - Senior Space Mechanical Systems engineer
His main responsibilities range from design of spacecraft components structure to withstand the space environment with a focus on strength, stiffness, thermal stability, and manufacturability requirements. He is also the Spacecraft lead for the Arab Cooperation Satellite 813 (Hyperspectral Satellite). He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Utah in the US, in Mechanical Engineering.
About his work for the mission, he said: “We meet every morning and share tasks according to a schedule. Each of us works on a set of tasks according to the diversity of responsibilities approach that we have trained on and which qualified us to deal with a wide range of tasks in different disciplines. “
Issa Hareb Al Mheiri - Energy Systems Engineer
Issa was responsible for installing the solar panels that will collect renewable and solar energy and power the batteries of Hope Probe.
He said: “The challenge lies in storing the solar energy when the Probe reaches and starts orbiting the Red Planet when the sun disappears at certain times. The importance of these batteries becomes vital then. I will also be tasked with ensuring that all the Probe’s batteries are fully charged before the launch date.”
Ahmad Obaid Al Yammahi - Assembly and Mechanical Systems Engineer
Ahmad provided support to the team during the shipping operation of the satellite. He was with the team at the Nagoya Airport in Japan to receive and transport the satellite and surround it with nitrogen gas to protect its stability and systems.
He shared: “I have utilized my installation and mechanical assembly experience that I gained from my previous work on the KhalifaSat project to support my colleagues today in the Hope Probe team and ensure best preparations.”
Mahmoud Al Awadi - Mechanical Systems Engineer
Mahmoud worked with the team that designed Hope’s structure. He also did the installation and assembly and conducted tests to ensure the safety of the probe and its scientific equipment.
He said of his task: “We ran many tests to ensure the safety and readiness of the fuel tank and make sure that there are no leaks in the propulsion systems network since we use hydrazine as a fuel for the probe, which is a very sensitive material.”
Youssef Al Shehhi - Thermal Systems Engineer
He was supposed to be at Tanegashima for no more than two weeks but due to the coronavirus pandemic, he decided to stay and support the team in receiving and moving the probe and testing the devices to ensure their safety and help install the thermal insulator that protects the probe from the space environment.
He said: “The project’s thermal systems are a challenge because the Probe will go through very hot temperatures at the launch to very cold temperatures when it reaches Mars. So, we designed the thermal systems and tested them under extremely low and high temperatures.”
Mohammad Omran Al Ameri - Ground Support Engineer
Mohammed joined the Probe Hope project in 2016 with a task to make sure that the probe’s systems are correctly integrated and assembled. He also helped design and make ground support equipment, such as the equipment that help integrate scientific devices on the probe to control its movement and direction accurately.
About his task, he shared: “We moved the probe after receiving it in Japan and installed mechanical equipment. We then measured its weight and central mass before and after refueling to make sure it’s ready. I also helped prepare the solar panels on the mechanical level and how they can be correctly folded in low and high temperatures since the probe will face both types of temperatures.”
Khalifa Al Mheiri - Satellite Telecommunications Engineer and Communication Subsystem Lead
Khalifa worked since 2016 within the Probe communications design group to ensure the integrity of communication throughout its journey from Earth to Mars.
His task is to receive all information from the Probe and send orders to it from the Earth station at MBRSC.
He said: “The frequency and the communication wave must be calculated precisely along with the electromagnetic radiations especially since the process of sending or receiving communication data with the Probe takes anywhere from 13 to 20 minutes due to the distance. We designed communications systems that make the data work within the correct frequency and at the correct speed to comply with the international standards approved by the International Telecommunication Union.”
He headed the communications unit of the space engineering department at MBRSC in 2018. He graduated from the American University of Sharjah with a Bachelor’s in Electrical Engineering.
Heyam Al Baloushi - Manufacturing, Assembly, Integration and Test (MAIT) and Quality Assurance Engineer
Heyam graduated from Khalifa University in 2011 and was one of eight female students to graduate from mechanical engineering department with honors. She received a research fellowship after graduation from NASA at the Ames Research Center in California where she worked for five months on the development and improvement of grey water filtration system used in space and earth applications.
She said: “The Hope Probe is more than its scientific goals; it’s a testament to the UAE’s readiness to tackle challenges and proves to be the ideal incubator for youth by inspiring them to follow their dreams. The Hope Probe project was developed by a group of diligent and enthusiastic Emiratis who achieved it in record time, and our wise government has provided opportunities to excel in all fields. It represents an Emirati contribution to benefit all humanity.”
Hope Probe expected to reach Mars’ orbit in February 2021 to coincide with the UAE’s celebrations of its golden jubilee.