Dr Ahmad Abdullah Humaid Bel Houl Al Falasi (centre) and Dr Mohammad Nasser Al Ahbabi (left) present a memento to Mohammad Al Darmaki, former board member of the UAE Space Agency, during the fourth anniversary celebrations in Abu Dhabi. Image Credit: Abdul Rahman/Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: The UAE Space Agency celebrated its fourth anniversary on Thursday in Abu Dhabi, with the agency confirming that the UAE’s ambitious Mars Hope Mission remains on track for 2020.

Created in 2014, the UAE Space Agency is tasked with developing the country’s space sector through a number of initiatives including space projects, forming international collaborations with other space agencies around the world, and also raising awareness about space science and encouraging young people to pursue both an education and career in the space sector.

“The manufacturing phase of the Emirates Mars Mission continues to progress, and is rapidly approaching completion. Last year, the Emirati team at the helm of the project successfully completed the design phase and are now in the midst of assembling and testing the Hope Probe,” said Dr Ahmad Abdullah Humaid Bel Houl Al Falasi, Minister of State for Higher Education and Advanced skills and chairman of the UAE Space Agency.

Al Falasi also spoke on the successful launch of Al Yah 3 satellite in January this year, with the satellite providing coverage to more than 60 per cent of Africa’s population.

“The past year has seen the launch of Al Yah 3 satellite, which has expanded the breadth of YahSat’s coverage to include 19 additional markets in Africa, accounting for 60 per cent of the continent’s population, as well as more than 95 per cent of the Brazilian population.

Space journey

“The UAE has an established footprint within the international space sector, providing satellite services to 140 countries,” he added.

Al Falasi said the UAE Space Agency would continue to support young Emiratis in the space sector, highlighting the UAE Astronaut Programme as an example with the programme down to its final nine candidates.

“Our programmes have also been reflective of the high level of public interest in the space sector — particularly among the youth. The UAE Astronaut Programme is among the most significant of these, having attracted more than 4,000 applicants from a range of scientific sectors.

“Today, we stand on the cusp of realising the prestigious objective of sending an Emirati to the International Space Station, with nine candidates having reached the final evaluation stages,” he added.

Echoing the minister’s remarks, Dr Mohammad Nasser Al Ahbabi, director-general of the UAE Space Agency, also affirmed that the UAE’s Mars Hope Mission was on schedule.

“Everything is on track, typically space [missions] are unusual to be on track [and on time], but amazingly our Mars mission is still on schedule, on time and on its budget.”

UAE satellites

Al Ahbabi said that two more satellites were also going to be launched this year, including KhalifaSat — which has been built and designed in the UAE by a full team of Emirati engineers.

“Later this year, we are going to launch KhalifaSat, which has been designed and made in the UAE by Emirati engineers. This is evidence that the UAE is now producing satellites and not only using satellites and this means a lot. The country has reached a different level in terms of its capabilities and its experience and this provides us with the confidence that we can do it.”

Commenting on the importance of having a space programme, Al Ahbabi said the programme could act as a beacon of hope for the youth of the UAE and the region.

“The young people in our region, when they see these projects being successfully carried out by the UAE, will gain confidence and it will motivate some of them to follow in the same path. In this way, the UAE is acting as a good model and example.”

Al Ahbabi said the space agency was proud of its accomplishments in only four years, and that it continued to strive for more success in what he called the agency’s upcoming “space years”.

“Everyone knows space is hard, expensive, high risk and takes a lot of time. This is why not many countries put themselves in space. To have a space programme in this region with our vision brings value and credibility to our country and we are proud of this.

“In terms of the future we still have big dreams, we think big and we are lucky to have a visionary leadership who believe in the future and are trying to prepare the country for it. We are using the space sector to prepare, educate and inspire [our people],” he added.

Key facts of UAE Mars Hope Mission

■ Launch date: 2020, to arrive in 2021

■ Travel time and distance: Approximately 200 days and more than 60 million kilometres

■ Primary research time: Two years for the main research with the potential of another two years added

■ Goal of probe: An extensive study of Martian atmosphere and to make new discoveries

■ Over 1,000 gigabytes of new data about Mars will be sent back to Earth

■ More than 75 Emiratis will work on project along with 200 other personnel at US institutions

■ Hope Probe will weigh 1,500kg and will be 2.37 metres’ wide and 2.90 metres’ tall

■ Probe will be equipped with star trackers and sun sensors

■ Probe will have three 600-Watt extendable solar panels

■ Mission is the first Arab and Islamic probe to be sent to Mars