Hope Probe reaches Japanese Island
Hope Probe reaches Japanese Island Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: The UAE’s Mars Hope Probe (Al Amal in Arabic) is set to begin its journey to the Red Planet on July 15 at exactly 12:51:27AM (UAE time) from Japan’s Tanegashima Space Centre (TNSC) in Kagoshima Prefecture, southwestern Japan, the Emirates Mars Mission (EMM) announced on Tuesday.

Mars Hope Probe will be carried aboard Mitsubishi Heavy Industries’ (MHI) H-IIA rocket. The first interplanetary exploration undertaken by an Arab nation will take a 495 million kilometre journey to reach and orbit Mars.

The Hope Probe is anticipated to enter Mars’ orbit in February next year, coinciding with the UAE’s golden jubilee celebrations, marking the historic union of the emirates.

The countdown to the launch began last month after the probe’s successful transfer from the UAE to Japan, in a journey that spanned more than 83 hours by land, air and sea.

According to EMM, the scheduled launch date represents the opening of the launch window, which extends until August 13, 2020. The time from mid-July to early August is the biennial window when Earth and Mars are closest to each other. If, for any reason, the launch cannot be attempted within this window, the mission would have to wait two years for another launch opportunity to arise.

Mission of Hope

“The Hope Probe is a national project that translates the vision of the UAE’s leadership to build an Emirati space program that reflects the country’s commitment to strengthening frameworks of international cooperation and finding solutions to global challenges for humanity’s benefit,” the EMM said in a statement sent to Gulf News.

“The mission carries a message of hope to revive a history rich in Arab achievements in science. Embodying the aspiration of the UAE, and its leadership to overcome the impossible, the Hope Probe is the nation’s contribution to shaping and making a promising future for humanity,” EMM added.

Final checkouts

The UAE orbiter has undergone final checkouts before its integration onto the two-stage medium-lift H-IIA launch vehicle, which first flew in 2001 and has enjoyed 40 successful launches to date. The UAE has previously collaborated with MHI to successfully launch the KhalifaSat.

According to EMM, the detailed processing operations for the launch to be completed over 50 working days would entail filling the fuel tank with about 700 kilograms of hydrogen fuel.

The process also required testing the communication and control devices, moving the probe to the launch pad, installing the probe on the rocket that will carry it to space, and ensuring the probe batteries are fully charged and taht there are no leaks.

Hope’s main structure is cubical made out of aluminum with a composite face-sheet. It measures 2.37 metres wide, 2.9 metre long, and weighs approximately 1,500 kilograms when fully fueled.

It was built by a team of 150 Emirati engineers who collaborated with American engineers and scientists in the in the development of the spacecraft at three US universities, including University of Colorado, University of California, Berkeley and Arizona State University.

Overcoming COVID-19

According to EMM, the team had to advance the timetable due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Omran Sharaf, EMM Mission Lead, was quoted in a CNN report sayig: “When Covid-19 came into the equation, it definitely took the complexity to a different level. Hope was shipped to Japan three weeks earlier than planned, while a team was sent two weeks prior, allowing them time to quarantine.”

The launch of the mission, however, has not been affected by the pandemic.

Sarah Bint Youssef Al-Amiri, Minister of State for Advanced Sciences and Emirates Mars Mission Deputy Project Manager, said: “The challenges overcome by the Hope Probe team amidst the global pandemic confirm the UAE mission’s commitment to achieve the impossible.”

“This mission embodies the nation’s aspirations, sends a positive message to the world and demonstrates the importance of carrying on unabated despite barriers and challenges,” she added.

Transport from Dubai to Japan

EMM said stringent health procedures were followed to safeguard the health and safety of the team that accompanied the probe on its journey to Japan that took three stages.

The first phase involved the preparation and transportation of the probe from the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Center to Dubai’s Al Maktoum International Airport, which spanned 16 hours, followed by an 11-hour transfer from Al Maktoum International Airport in Dubai to Nagoya Airport in Japan that included loading into the giant ‘Antonov 12’ plane - the largest cargo plane in the world. The third stage was the probe’s transfer from Nagoya Airport to the launch site on Tanegashima Island by ship.