UAE’s pioneering mission to Mars
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.