The United Arab Emirates is setting a course for Venus and the main asteroid belt. The new interplanetary mission, announced by the UAE Space Agency on Tuesday, will launch in 2028.
The spacecraft will go on a five-year expedition, orbiting Venus and Earth before reaching the main asteroid belt located between Mars and Jupiter in 2030. There, it will observe seven asteroids before landing on an asteroid that is 347 million miles (560 million kilometers) from Earth in 2033.
If its mission is successful, the UAE will become the fourth nation to land a spacecraft on an asteroid.
The mission will travel a total of 2.2 billion miles (3.6 billion kilometers) and come within 67 million miles (109 million kilometers) of the sun during its flyby of Venus, which will require the spacecraft to have thermal shielding to protect it from the intense heat.
As-yet unnamed, the mission will begin orbiting Venus in mid-2028 and closely orbit Earth in mid-2029. These orbits will provide the spacecraft with the gravity assists it needs in order to reach the main asteroid belt.
More details about the mission, including its specific science goals and the instruments on the spacecraft, will be announced in 2022.
The UAE Space Agency said they will use the technology and lessons learned from developing the Emirates Mars Mission and its Hope Probe, which launched in July 2018. The Hope Probe is currently orbiting Mars after arriving in February. The probe, along with its three scientific instruments, is expected to create the first complete portrait of the Martian atmosphere. The instruments collect different data points on the atmosphere to also gauge seasonal and daily changes.
The new mission will travel seven times the distance that took the Hope Probe to Mars.
“Our goal is clear: to accelerate the development of innovation and knowledge-based enterprises in the Emirates,” said Sarah bint Yousif Al Amiri, Minister of State for Advanced Sciences and Chair of the UAE Space Agency, in a statement. “This can’t be done by going steady-state, this requires leaps in imagination, in faith and the pursuit of goals that go beyond prudent or methodical.
“When we embarked on the Emirates Mars Mission, we took on a six-year task that was in the order of five times more complex than the earth observation satellites we were developing. This mission is in the order of five times more complex than EMM.”
The UAE Space Agency will once again partner with the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado Boulder, which also works with the UAE on the Emirates Mars Mission.
With this new mission also comes new initiatives and programs to bolster space exploration by the UAE. Emirati private sector companies will work with the UAE Space Agency on the mission and initiatives.
“This new mission tests and extends the capabilities of Emirati youth in achieving Zayed’s ambition to explore space,” said Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, in a statement. “We are certain that our talented local engineers, academic and research institutions, which have so far made quantum leaps in developing our space sector, are well equipped to take on this daring new challenge.”