First UAE interplanetary probe now in orbit around Mars – two craft from China, US near Red Planet, too

Orbital mechanics leads to rush hour


The United Arab Emirates space agency successfully maneuvered a spacecraft into Martian orbit on Tuesday, marking the country’s first foray into interplanetary exploration.

“The entry of the Hope Probe into the orbit of Mars is a significant accomplishment in our nation’s history,” the Crown Prince of Emirate of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan said in a tweet. “This achievement was made possible by the Emirati pioneers whose work will inspire future scientists and engineers for generations. We are immensely proud of them.”

Launched in July 2020 aboard a Mitsubishi-made rocket from the Tanegashima Space Centre in Japan, the spacecraft has spent seven months heading to the Red Planet. The probe's engines fired on time to change its velocity for a successful orbital insertion.

The braking maneuver, carried out over 27 minutes, was the trickiest part of the flight, Mohsen Al Awadhi, lead systems engineer on the Emirates Mars Mission, told The Register.

Armed with three instruments – a camera and two spectrometers for infrared and ultraviolet emissions – the Hope Probe will study the Martian atmosphere. Scientists are particularly interested in mapping out the dust world's weather conditions by studying how the different layers of the atmosphere interact with one another. They hope the data will help them figure out why oxygen and hydrogen particles are stripped away from Mars and lost to space.

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“This for the first time will allow us to study the link between weather change and atmospheric loss, a process that may have been responsible for Mars’ transition, over billions of years, from a thick atmosphere capable of sustaining liquid water on the surface, to the cold, thin, arid atmosphere we see today,” the Emirates Mars Mission site stated.

It's going to be a busy month for Martian exploration. The Chinese National Space Agency‘s Tianwen-1 probe – consisting of an orbital satellite, a lander, and solar-powered rover – is expected to reach the Martian planetary orbit today (February 10), and NASA’s 1,025kg nuclear-powered rover Perseverance (aka Curiosity v2.0) is due to land eight days later.

The close arrivals aren’t a coincidence: the space agencies carefully planned to launch their spacecraft between July and August last year to take advantage of Earth and Mars being at their closest distance to one another, an event that happens every 26 months. The shortened distance allows the vehicles to reach the Red Planet destinations with less fuel.

You can track the Hope Probe moving around Mars during its mission here. ®

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