Dubai: Hope Probe will not only make history as the first Arab interplanetary mission to reach Mars, the spacecraft will serve as a litmus test for the burgeoning UAE space programme and Emirati design and engineering.
At a press briefing at the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) on Tuesday, Omran Sharaf, Project Director of Emirates Mars Mission, said years of study, simulations, design iterations and system engineering will be tested for the first time when Hope Probe enters its most critical stage as the spacecraft makes a one-off Mars Orbit Insertion (MOI).
Happening on February 9, MOI is the risky stage when Hope Probe will have to slowdown sufficiently so will be captured into Mars orbit. As it approaches Mars’ orbit, the spacecraft will use its thrustersto do a 27-minute fuel burn to reduce its speed from 121,000kph to 18,000kph. Precision is key to success to avoid Hope Probe crashing on Mars or missing its orbit and getting lost in deep space.
There is no do-over for the MOI that only has a 50 per cent success rate. Sharaf said it is the most critical phase of the mission, even riskier than the launch phase “For the first time, we will use our system and platform to perform deep space operation. During the launch (July 20, 2020) we had used the services of MHI (Mitsubishi Heavy Industries) but one hour after lift-off, we used our own software. We used our own programme to navigate Hope Probe from Earth to deep space then to Mars,” Sharaf said.
“The design, system and software that will be used for the MOI are all Emirati-made. This is in line with the directive from the UAE leadership to build and not to buy,” he added.
How Hope Probe will enter Mars orbit
Suhail Butti Al Dhafri, Deputy Project Manager — Hope Spacecraft, explained Hope Probe will use its six Delta V thrusters to rapidly reduce the speed of the spacecraft from 121,000km/h to 18,000km/h to enter Mars’ orbit. “If one pair will malfunction, the two pairs will fire up and increase burning fuel to achieved the required deceleration,” he added.
There is no live command that EMM ground crew at MBRSC command centre can send to Hope Probe as there is an 11-minute delay in communication with the spacecraft. All commands to Hope Probe have been preprogrammed. The last communication was done on Tuesday morning and the spacecraft is in good health,” Al Dhafri noted.
During the MOI, Hope Probe will operate on auto mode, using star trackers to help its position.
It takes radio signals 11 to 22 minutes to travel from Hope Probe around Mars to the ground network on Earth, hence the need for autonomy.
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, USA.
How close can Hope Probe get to Mars
After travelling 493.5 million kilometres in deep space for seven months, the orbit insertion will take the Hope Probe as close as 1,000km above Mars’ surface and as far as 49,380km away from it. The elliptical science orbit of Hope Probe is between 20,000 — 43,000km around Mars. The probe will complete one orbit of the planet every 55 hours.