The UAE successfully launches Mars probe, making history for the Arab world

An Emirati walks past a screen displaying the “Hope” Mars probe at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre in Dubai on July 19, 2020, ahead of it’s expected launch from Japan. The probe is one of three racing to the Red Planet, with Chinese and US rockets also taking advantage of the Earth and Mars being unusually close: a mere hop of 55 million kilometres (34 million miles).

GIUSEPPE CACACE | AFP via Getty Images

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The UAE has successfully launched its Mars probe, named Hope, making history as the Arab world’s first interplanetary mission. 

“We have lift-off. H2A, the rocket carrying the Hope Probe to space, has launched from the Tanegashima Space Centre in Japan,” the official account Hope Mars Mission tweeted early Monday morning. “The Hope Probe is the culmination of every single step that humans have taken throughout history to explore the unknown depths of space.”

Hope launched from the Japanese space center on Sunday, having been delayed from the previous week due to poor weather conditions. Within a few hours of liftoff, the ground segment at Dubai’s Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre established two-way communication with the probe. 

NASA’s Perseverance Mars Rover tweeted to the Hope mission: “Congratulations on your launch! I wish you a successful journey and look forward to the sol when we are both exploring Mars.”

The Hope probe, a $ 200 million project called “Al Amal” in Arabic, is scheduled to reach Mars’ orbit in February 2021 and will spend one Mars year — equivalent to 687 days on Earth — studying and gathering data on the red planet’s atmosphere. The year 2021 is also significant: it will mark 50 years of the UAE’s existence. 

“It is a weather satellite, and that’s one objective of the mission,” Sarah al-Amiri, the Mars mission’s lead scientist and UAE minister of state for advanced sciences told Spaceflight Now. “We also look at what role Mars’ weather plays in atmospheric loss. That’s the other part of the mission.”

The Emirates Mars Mission partnered with a team at the University of Colorado Boulder to build the spacecraft, drawing on expertise from the university’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics. But the small Gulf country itself has spent years investing in space research and development, founding its own space agency in 2014 after launching satellites in 2009 and 2013 developed jointly with South Korean partners. 

The U.S. and China are also launching their own Mars missions — expected to reach the planet’s orbit around the same time as the Hope probe — this summer, because of a specific time window that occurs once every two years where Mars and Earth are closest together.

The UAE’s government has launched various campaigns to expand the country’s STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) sector, and it views its growing space program as an important part of that. It’s also the first country in the world to have a minister of A.I., and is investing heavily in its own indigenous defense industry.  

Some 200 Emirati engineers and scientists spent six years working on the Arab world’s first spacecraft. NASA administrator Jim Bridestine tweeted: “Congrats to the team that worked on @HopeMarsMission. It’s truly amazing what @UAESpaceAgency & @MBRSpaceCentre have accomplished in such a short time.”

“The Emirates has successfully launched the first interplanetary mission in the Arab world, commencing a 493-million-kilometer (306-million-mile) journey to Mars,” Ahmad Al Falasi, chairman of the UAE Space Agency and minister of state for higher education, said in a statement. “This is a huge leap forward for the UAE’s ambitious space program. The Emirates Mars Mission is a catalyst that has already served to significantly accelerate the development of the UAE’s space, education, science and technologies sectors.”

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