United Arab Emirates launch first mission to Mars

The UAE launch follows the SpaceX mission earlier this month. Source: NASA TV
UAE launches first mission to Mars in $200m Hope project to investigate Mars' atmosphere and history.

By Holly Giles

Yesterday, in a historic moment for the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the space station launched its first $200m mission to Mars. The Hope probe has now embarked on a 500-million km journey, with the expectation of reaching Mars in February 2021, a month also marking the 50th anniversary of the UAE’s formation. This is expected to mark the achievements of the country and its advancements in the last fifty years.

The impact of the mission for the UAE will be the equivalent of the Apollo 11 moon landing for Americans, explained Her Excellency Sarah Al Amiri, the science lead on Hope:

“[Apollo 11] was an anchor for an entire generation that stimulated everyone that watched it to push further and to dream bigger. Today I am really glad that the children in the Emirates will wake up on the morning of the 20th of July having an anchor project of their own, having a new reality, having new possibilities, allowing them to further contribute and to create a larger impact on the world.”

Despite the fact the US and China both have missions leaving for Mars this month, the UAE ensures that their mission is different.

They explained they have no intention of repeating current measurements and through working with the NASA advisory committee, Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group has found a new goal for the project. They are studying how energy moves through the atmosphere, the behaviour of hydrogen and oxygen in the atmosphere and to fill in the blanks on how Mars lost its water.

It is hoped that an increased understanding of the planet’s history could provide insight into the future of Earth and the possible inhabitation of Mars. 

Unlike the other two projects, the UAE probe will not land on Mars but will orbit it for one Mars year, the equivalent of 687 days. This different approach will allow the project to focus on the atmosphere rather than the planetary surface. 

David Brain, core science team lead on Hope, explained how Hope will work:

The desire to see every piece of real estate at every time of day ended up making the orbit very large and elliptical. By making those choices, we will for example be able to hover over Olympus Mons (the largest volcano in the Solar System) as Olympus Mons moves through different times of day. And at other times, we’ll be letting Mars spin underneath us. We’ll get full disc images of Mars, but our camera has filters, so we’ll be doing science with those images – getting global views with different goggles on, if you like.”

This is a major landmark for the UAE and the effect on the population of the emirates will be huge; it is expected to attract more young people to take up sciences in school and higher education.

The UAE’s government declared the launch “message of pride, hope, and peace to the Arab region, in which we renew the golden age of Arab and Islamic discoveries.”

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