The mission ‘Hope’ (‘Al Amal’, in Arabic, and ‘hope’ in Spanish), the first from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to Mars, has managed to successfully reach the orbit of the red planet this Tuesday. The Arab country becomes the fifth to reach Mars (before the United States, Russia, China, Europe, and India) and the first Arab interplanetary mission. This is the first achievement of a historic week in space exploration, in which three probes will reach their final destination, in our cosmic neighbor.

Before, the orbiter traveled almost 500 million kilometers for seven months to reach the Martian orbit. Of the three missions that took off from Earth last July (‘Hope’ was the first; followed by the Chinese probe ‘Tianwen-1’, which is scheduled to carry out the same operation as the Emirati ship in just 24 hours; and, next week, NASA’s ‘Mars2020’ mission will land), it is the only one that will not land on Martian soil, since the idea is that from an elliptical orbit between 1,000 and 49,380 kilometers above the surface maps the climate of a Martian year ( which in terrestrial terms is approximately 24 months). She will not be alone there: she will accompany three Americans, two European, and one Indian ship that is already circling our red neighbor.

‘Al Amal’ had to make an intricate and risky maneuver of turns and acceleration of engines and get almost dry braking from 121,000 kilometers per hour to about 18,000 km / h. “Anything that goes slightly wrong will cause the spacecraft to be lost,” said Sarah al-Amiri, minister of state for advanced technology and president of the UAE space agency during a previous conference. About 60% of all missions to Mars ended in failures, crashes, fires, or a failed trajectory, which accounts for the complexity of interplanetary travel and the difficulty of making a descent through the thin Martian atmosphere. When it was confirmed from NASA’s Madrid antenna in Robledo de Chavela, the small control center in the UAE exploded in applause, although it was a contained celebration due to the regulations to control the pandemic.

Meanwhile, the mythical skyscraper of Dubai, the Burj Khalifa, was illuminated with images of the takeoff, as well as the faces of those responsible for the project, which followed one another in a spectacle of color. Omran Sharaf, director of the United Arab Emirates mission at the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center, assessed the situation through a statement: “The insertion into the orbit of Mars was the most critical and dangerous part of the mission since the probe ‘Hope’ was exposed to stresses and pressures that she had never faced before. While we have spent six years tirelessly designing and testing the system, there is no way to fully simulate the impact of the deceleration and navigation required to autonomously achieve insertion into the orbit of Mars.

The computers onboard ‘Al Amal’ have had to face these maneuvers alone since there is an eleven-minute lag with the Earth that is crucial during this type of operation on Mars.
From now on, the probe will complete one orbit of the planet every 55 hours to capture a complete Martian image every nine days. The design of this mission will allow ‘Hope’ to explore the changes in the Martian climate between the upper and lower atmosphere and complete the first image of the atmospheric dynamics and climate of Mars at all times of the day and through all the seasons of the year. . The first data provided by the Emirati probe will be published in September and will be made available to scientists around the world. For its part, the first scientific results and findings of the mission’s science team will be published in early December.

COLLABORATION WITH RESEARCHERS FROM THE USA

The UAE chose to collaborate with more experienced partners rather than carry out the project unilaterally or purchase the spacecraft. Specifically, its scientists and engineers teamed up with researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, Arizona State University, and the University of Boulder Colorado. The latter was where the parts were assembled before sending the ship to Japan, from where the launch took place last July.

Specifically, ‘Hope’ is the size of a car and has cost a total of 200 million dollars (about 165 million euros) between construction and launch. However, from the UAE they speak that the project went far beyond a simple space mission to the red planet: “This was never just about getting to Mars,” Sharaf said at a previous press conference. Mars is just a means to a much larger goal. ‘ The goal of getting on the map as a space power and a reference in technology in the Arab world. And, for now, the first steps are being a success.