UAE’s pioneering mission to Mars

Friday 04/09/2015
MBRSC Engineers and Scientists at Lab.

Dubai - While much of the Mid­dle East is plagued by political strife and stagnate social progress, the United Arab Emirates is planning to launch its first mission into outer space.
Announced in July 2014, the flag­ship project of the newly founded Mohammed bin Rashid Space Cen­tre (MBRSC), the Emirates Mars Mission (EMM), intends to launch an unmanned probe to Mars by July 2020. It is expected to complete the approximately 60 million-kilometre journey seven months later, on the 50th anniversary of the founding of the country — a union of seven emir­ates on the Arabian Gulf.
Back on Earth, the UAE has been gradually leaning into this new in­dustry and joining the collective effort into space exploration. The project, dubbed “Hope Probe”, is meant to collect atmospheric data that may prove important to under­standing climate change on Earth.
“Hope will work towards under­standing the current state of the Martian weather over a period of one Martian year (780 days),” Sarah Amiri, deputy project manager and science lead, told The Arab Weekly.
“Understanding the overall dy­namics of Mars’ weather today and understanding the history of the evolution of the weather and atmos­phere will allow us to better under­stand the changes Earth is facing.
“EMM’s science investigation is a piece of the puzzle that will allow scientists to understand the changes that occurred to Mars over millions of years.”
Underlining the scientific im­portance of the mission, Amiri ex­plained that the findings will assist scientists across Earth better under­stand the dynamics behind climate change and potentially lead to dis­coveries on how to reverse the pro­cess. The venture into the unknown will include a number of interna­tional partners, including educa­tional institutions such as the Space Science Lab at the University of Cali­fornia, Berkeley, and the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado, which will develop the technology along­side MBRSC.
There are hopes that the mission will mark the UAE as a pioneer in the field while simultaneously forging international bonds that have come under considerable strain. While the technical know-how of more experi­enced institutions will prove imper­ative to the success of the mission, so too would contributions from neighbouring nations.
“The aim, as was announced by the UAE’s prime minister, is to make the region an active generator of knowledge, in supporting human­ity and make the youth of the region focus on progress and bridge the gap between them and the youth in de­veloped nations,” said Project Man­ager Omran Sharaf.
“The hope is not just to make the UAE a major contributor to space ex­ploration, but also the whole region and for the benefit of humanity as a whole,” he added.
A delegation from Bahrain’s Na­tional Space Science Agency, led by its chairman, Mohammed Al Amer, visited its Emirati counterparts in July to explore potential collabora­tion.
“The two sides discussed oppor­tunities for cooperation between the various institutions operating in the space sector and how to make the most of their expertise in the fields of technology and space science. Both organisations are focusing on developing the space industry, in­cluding implementing programmes and scientific missions aimed at training specialised space science national cadres,” they said in a joint statement.
Ibrahim Al Qasimi, deputy project lead in charge of strategic planning, underlined that“everyone is wel­come to join the efforts of the mis­sion in one capacity or another”.
“Scientists in the Arab world and international scientists will be invit­ed to make use of data sent back by Hope Probe and help us understand Mars better,” Qasimi said.
“Our partners at MBRSC have always been chosen based on her­itage. More importantly they are chosen based on their willingness to approach this partnership with good will, take risks with us and treat it like a true partnership.”
Qasimi argued that the “partner­ship ideology”, if permeated enough into society, can result in a regional unity much needed to recover from the upheaval it faces today and it would appear that a lot more hope is riding on the Hope Probe than previ­ously thought.
The size of a small car, the probe is built from aluminium and will be equipped with a star tracker and an array of solar panels and thrusters.
It will include imaging equipment and ultraviolet and infrared spec­trometers that will help scientists understand the dynamics of the at­mosphere around Mars, the propor­tion of various elements and com­pounds in the atmosphere and the mechanism by which hydrogen and oxygen escape into space.
The UAE has invested up to $5.4 billion in developing the space ex­ploration sector. Its mission to Mars is expected to help provide a better insight into the planet’s evolution.