On the 19th of July 2020, the Emirates Mars Mission EMM – the first Arab interplanetary mission – was launched in the direction of Mars alongside two other space missions (Tianwen-2020 from China and Mars 2020 from the USA) to provide the first complete picture of the Martian atmosphere. It is scheduled to reach the Red Planet by February 2021 in the next few days. This mission is being led by the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) under Omran Sharaf’s management. The probe operating for this mission was named Hope because the mission is “sending a message of optimism to millions of young Arabs,” encouraging them towards innovation.
This project was signed in a joint agreement between the United Arab Emirates Space Agency (UAESA) and the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) to achieve and accomplish this objective. Indeed the mission was fully funded by the UAESA, who will supervise the process in full, whereas the MBRSC was given the responsibility of the design and manufacture.
The uncrewed robotic probe (both its instruments and orbit) has the main objective to map a comprehensive picture of Mars’s atmosphere: the first true weather satellite orbiting around Mars. The probe’s main scientific aim was decided with the Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group (a forum led by NASA), which identifies the main knowledge gaps that current or past Mars missions have not yet tackled. As such, Hope is set on a wide and distant course around the planet, which will allow it to study seasonal cycles, as well as the weather at different heights and geographic areas to help it build a general impression of Mars’s daily climate.
The different steps to reach this understanding will first be through the characterization of Mars’s lower atmosphere – its climate dynamics and global weather. Then, Hope will attempt to explain how the weather influences hydrogen and oxygen’s escape by correlating its previous observations of the lower atmosphere with those of the upper atmosphere. Finally, the probe will attempt to identify why hydrogen and oxygen’s loss into space occurs. A further application of the probe will help us better understand our own planet. Indeed, the collected data of Mars’s atmosphere will be used to apply it to a model of Earth’s atmosphere’s evolution over the past millions of years.
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Design and instrumentation:
The orbiter probe Hope was built by the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) at the University of Colorado with support from the MBRSC and the Arizona State University, and the University of California, Berkeley. The design and construction was a collaboration between a team of Emirati engineers and foreign research institutions, contributing towards a knowledge-based economy in the United Arab Emirates.
The technical specifications of the resulting spacecraft was a probe built of aluminium with a composite face-sheet adding up to a total mass of 1350 kilograms (including the propellant) and carrying the dimensions of a small car (7 ft 9 in x 9 ft 6 in) and was powered by two solar panels generating 1800 Watts of power. Also, for communication purposes, the probe was garnished with a 1.5-meter diameter antenna to produce a narrow radio-wave that must point towards Earth. Besides, to complete the mission, Hope was equipped with three highly specific instrumentation pieces.
Firstly the EXI or Emirates eXploration Imager, a multi-band camera, was added to the probe to take high-resolution images to measure the properties of water, ice, dust, and more chemicals in Mars’s atmosphere. Secondly, the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre also developed, with the help of the Arizona State University, an interferometric thermal infrared spectrometer – the Emirates Mars Infrared Spectrometer (EMIRS), which is set to examine the various temperatures of ice, water vapor, or dust to map the profile of Mars’s atmosphere.
Finally, the last instrument onboard Hope is the Emirates Mars Ultraviolet Spectrometer (EMUS), which measures the emissions in the atmosphere, ranging in wavelengths from 100 to 170 nm to measure the global characteristics of emission in Mars’s atmosphere.
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Journey and launch:
After development, the space probe was assembled in Colorado. Thus, before reaching the launch site, Hope had to travel to Japan from the USA, where it was manufactured, a process that itself faced complications due to the world health situation amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In April 2020, after being transferred to Dubai to undergo some testings, the Hope probe set on its journey to Tanegashima in Japan inside a Russian operated Antonov An-124 cargo plane transferring it from Dubai to Nagoya. Finally, the probe’s journey to Tanegashima was concluded on a trail aboard a cargo ship from Nagoya to Tanegashima.
The space journey then began when Hope was launched from Japan, at the Tanegashima Space Centre, by the H2A202 rocket part of the HII-A launch vehicle family, one built and operated by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (usually for the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency JAXA which here took care of flight safety and launch site facility); the first step towards Mars for West Asian and Arab countries. HII-A is the successor to the earlier H-II rocket and comprises two stages and two solid rocket boosters with a payload capacity of 4.0 metric tons. The propulsion system of the rocket uses liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen.
Significance of Hope:
As such, these immense preparations and considerable efforts on the part of the UAE and the world will be unfolding in the next few days as the probe enters Mars’s atmosphere. Hope is an opportunity for the Arab world to once again, as it did in the past, contribute to human knowledge all while striving to the highest peaks of one’s nations and a considerable and crucial investment in the United Arab Emirates economy and human capital.
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