The UAE, First Arab Country With A Spacecraft in Mars Orbit

The United Arab Emirates became this week the first Arab country to reach Mars by placing its “Hope” probe in orbit around the red planet, in an important step in space exploration.

“For a country like the UAE, with no past experience in space exploration to succeed so flawlessly and in such a short time on a major mission where many had failed before, is a great feat,” Dr. Nidhal Guessoum, an astrophysicist and a space science professor at the American University of Sharjah, told the MBRSC Post.

“It is the crowning of years of efforts, training, preparation, discussions with partners, learning from past missions. Being able to study and understand other planets helps us understand our own planet’s history, which is important,” said Dr. Guessoum.

Dr. Guessoum said that the United Arab Emirates’ Space Agency is training more astronauts to send them to the International Space Station. Another plan for the Space Agency is to build a rover — a small robotic car — and sending it to the moon by 2024. “So, in terms of space projects, Arabs have a lot to do over the next years.” 

According to Dr. Ilias Fernini, Deputy General Director for Research Laboratories at the Sharjah Academy for Astronomy, Space Sciences and Technology (SAASST), Mars has some common features with the Earth, like “dry bed rivers, sand, rocks, and huge mountains.”

He believes that the Hope Probe would answer some questions about Mars’ features, whether “the found dry bed rivers are made of water.” “If so, where does that water come from? Is it from the underground? Why does Mars have such a thin atmosphere? Was it thick 3 or 3.5 billion years ago? If so, why did it lose its atmosphere?”

To study the Martian atmosphere, the Hope probe had to enter the red planet’s orbit, and entering it required 27 minutes. During that “nail-biting” time, Dr. Fernini said, no signals could be sent from the Probe”. “Those 27 minutes that preceded the orbit insertion were critical for the spacecraft, as it had to brake its speed from 121,000 km/h to nearly 18,000 km/h. Otherwise; it would have been lost into space forever,” he explained. 

Live coverage of the Mars mission by Abu Dhabi TV. Photo by Maisa Eid.

All UAE television channels provided a full live coverage of the historic event.

After the Hope probe succeeded to go into orbit on Tuesday, Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Ruler of Dubai and the Vice President of the UAE, and Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, congratulated the Emirati engineers who worked hard to make the Martial mission project a success.

 The UAE’s Space Agency was created in 2014, and after seven year of hard work, it succeeded in launching the Hope Probe to the Martial orbit. The spacecraft was sent from Tanegashima Space Centre in Japan, and has crossed more than 490 million km from the start point on July 19, 2020, until February 9, 2021, which marks the UAE’s golden jubilee celebration. 

Video courtesy of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre

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Maisa Eid

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