The United Arab Emirates successfully launched its Mars-bound Hope Probe on Sunday, marking the the Arab world’s first interplanetary mission – and the first of three international missions to the Red Planet this summer.
The Hope Probe took off from the Tanegashima Space Center in Japan, after a delay last week due to bad weather. The solid rocket booster successfully separated from the launch vehicle, and the probe has established two-way communication with the ground segment in Dubai.
The Al Amal probe, as it is called in Arabic, is expected to reach Mars by February 2021. It will be the first time the UAE has orbited Mars, and the probe will stay in orbit for a Martian year – equivalent to 687 days on Earth – to gather data about Mars’ atmosphere.
“It’s an honor to be part of the global efforts to explore deep space,” tweeted the official Hope Mars Mission account after the launch. “The Hope Probe is the culmination of every single step that humans have taken throughout history to explore the unknown depths of space.”
The United States and China are also embarking on Mars missions this summer. NASA’s Perseverance Rover and China’s Tianwen 1 are expected to launch sometime between late July and early August, though the exact date will depend on daily launch conditions.
These three countries are all launching this summer due to the occurrence of a biennial window when Earth and Mars are closest together, making the journey a little bit shorter.
NASA tweeted its congratulations after Hope’s successful launch, writing on Perseverance’s official Twitter page: “I wish you a successful journey and look forward to the sol when we are both exploring Mars … I cannot wait to join you on the journey!”
Growing space sector
The Hope Probe is the UAE’s latest and most ambitious step in its burgeoning space sector.
The UAE has launched satellites before – in 2009 and 2013 – but they were developed with South Korean partners. The country founded its space agency in 2014, and has set ambitious targets including a colony on the Martian surface by 2117.
Government officials have previously spoken of the space program as a catalyst for the country’s growing STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) sector.
Simply making it this far was an impressive feat for the Gulf country. Most Mars missions take between 10 to 12 years to develop – but UAE scientists had just six years to carry out the project.
To build the spacecraft, they partnered with a team in the US, at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics. And to find a novel science objective for Hope’s mission, they consulted the Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group (MEPAG), a forum created by NASA to plan explorations of Mars.
They decided to use Hope to build the first full picture of Mars’ climate throughout the Martian year, said Sarah Al Amiri, the mission’s science lead.
“The data gathered by the probe will add a new dimension to the human knowledge,” said Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, on Twitter. “This is our latest contribution to the world.”
Studying Mars’ weather system, including changes in the atmosphere and climate, could help lead to an understanding of how Mars – a planet that used to share characteristics with Earth – went from having rivers and lakes to having no water on its surface, said Al Amiri.
To piece together the puzzle, the probe will aim to take a variety of measurements, allowing to explore different theories. Al Amiri says the team is especially interested in a possible link between dust storms and the loss of hydrogen and oxygen – the building blocks of water – from the Martian atmosphere.
CNN’s Jenny Marc and Stephanie Bailey contributed to this report.