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Science

The facts on Hope: The UAE's Mars mission 'Al-Amal'

Hope is the United Arab Emirates' first mission to Mars, and the country aims to use it to transform global science, the nation's space sector, and its economy. Here's what you need to know about the mission.

The Emirates Mars Mission aims to send an unmanned  spacecraft, or probe, into Martian orbit. As with other Mars missions this year, run by China and the US — Tianwen-1 and Mars 2020, respectively — the UAE's mission is scheduled to launch between July and August 2020 and begin operations on Mars by February 2021.

What's in a name?

The probe's name is "Al-Amal" — Arabic for "hope" — and as such, the name is pretty self-explanatory. 

But Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, vice president and prime minister of the UAE and ruler of the Emirate of Dubai, has said the government chose the name from "thousands of suggestions […] as it sends a message of optimism to millions of young Arabs." 

Read moreThe facts on Tianwen-1: Mars orbiter and rover

Emirates Mars Mission | Hope Mars Mission (Emirates Mars Mission/MBRSC)

The Emirates Mars Mission Hope Probe being built in a 'clean room'

"Arab civilization once played a great role in contributing to human knowledge and will play that role again," Vice President Mohammed bin Rashid said. "The Hope Probe embodies the culture of possibilities deeply rooted in the UAE's approach, philosophy, and journey of accelerating development." 

A first for the UAE 

Hope is the UAE's first interplanetary mission. The operation aims to provide the global scientific community with novel data. The probe will fly around Mars in a way that's never been done before.   

The mission was announced in 2014 following a feasibility study in 2013 —  a mere seven years from concept to launch.

UAE's space sector is young and small  but it has a successful track record.  It has been vibrant in Earth observation for about a decade. 

In 2006, the national space agency, run by the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC), started a knowledge transfer program with South Korea.
That collaboration has produced a clutch of Earth observation satellites, including DubaiSat-1 and DubaiSat-2, which launched in 2009 and 2013. They were followed by a nanosatellite called Nayif-1 in 2017. 

In 2018, the MBRSC launched its first "100% UAE-designed and manufactured" remote-sensing satellite,  KhalifaSat.

Read moreThe facts on Perseverance: Mars 2020 Rover

The MRBSC also has an astronaut program. Hazzaa Al-Mansoori became the first Emirati in space when he flew to the International Space Station (ISS)  on a scientific mission in 2019. 

Mars 2020 'launch window' 

The launch is currently scheduled for July 14 but could be postponed through to mid-August 2020, depending on weather conditions or other technical issues.

Where's the launch site? 

The Hope Probe will be launched from the Tanegashima Space Center in Japan. The same site was used for the KhalifaSat in 2018.

The UAE has also launched missions from Kazakhstan, Russia, and India.

What's it riding on? 

A Japanese H-IIA rocket will carry the probe into space.

Japanese H-IIA rocket (Emirates Mars Mission/MBRSC)

Two stages of a Japanese H-IIA rocket in preparation for the Emirates Mars Mission probe, Hope

When will it arrive?

The plan is for Hope to enter into its Martian orbit by February 2021 to coincide with the UAE's 50th anniversary celebrations.

What's special about Hope's orbit?

Hope will have an elliptical orbit ranging from about 20,000 kilometers at its lowest to 43,000 kilometers at its highest point. Scientists have designed the orbit to allow them to explore the planet's "diurnal," or day-to-night cycle. And that's what has never been done before. 

Why launch now? 

Every 18 to 24 months, Earth and Mars align in such a way that the journey — or trajectory — is effectively shortened from a nine-month to a seven-month trip.

Failing to begin the trip during this "launch window" would mean the mission would need to wait another two years. But that wouldn't fit with UAE's 50th anniversary celebrations, so Hope has got to go now. 

The mission 

Hope has three scientific objectives, but the main goal is to provide the first complete picture of the Martian atmosphere. And once it's been verified, that data will be open to the global space research community. 

Infografik Emirates Mars Mission

Goal 1: To understand the climate dynamics of Mars and the planet's global weather map by characterizing its lower atmosphere.

Goal 2: To explain how the weather on Mars affects the escape of hydrogen and oxygen from its atmosphere.

Goal 3: To understand the structure and variability of hydrogen and oxygen in the upper atmosphere, and identify why Mars is losing those gases into space.

Read moreWhat's the science on the Emirates Mars Mission?

The data will be collected at Mars for an entire Martian year.

Another key objective is to offer the global science community new and useful insights about Mars and to further our understanding of how and why Mars is uninhabitable for humans — why its atmosphere wouldn't protect us the same way our atmosphere does on Earth.

But it's not all altruistic. The UAE is keen to expand its science and technology sector to transform the country into more of a knowledge-based economy as the global demand for oil decreases.

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Instruments on the probe

The Hope probe features three instruments: the Emirates eXploration Imager (EXI), the Emirates Mars InfraRed Spectrometer (EMIRS), and the Emirates Mars Ultraviolet Spectrometer (EMUS).

EXI: Will study the lower atmosphere of Mars and capture high-resolution images. It will measure the optical depth of water ice in the atmosphere and analyze the Martian ozone.

EMIRS: Will study the Martian lower atmosphere. It will measure the global distribution of dust, ice clouds, water vapor, and temperature.

EMUS: Will measure the levels and variability of carbon monoxide and oxygen in the Martian thermosphere. It will also measure oxygen and hydrogen in the exosphere.

International collaboration

This mission is all about collaboration. 

Emirates Mars Mission | Hope Mars Mission (Emirates Mars Mission/MBRSC)

The UAE is keen on international collaboration, but it says it wants to build a community of Emirati scientists and engineers

The Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Center has struck partnerships with the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado, Boulder; the Space Sciences Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley; and the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University. 

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It has also collaborated with the University College London,  which has produced a "value analysis" report on UAE's use of space to transform its future.

Chances of success

Space is never easy.  A lot can go wrong. But UAE had success launching the KhalifaSat from Japan, and it was on the same kind of rocket — so, that's a good start. 

Emirates Mars Mission - Illustration (Emirates Mars Mission/MBRSC)

Artist's impression of The Hope / Al-Amal Probe orbiting Mars

Its Earth observation satellites have done well, so there is a good chance that Hope will successfully enter its Martian orbit and "wake up" for its mission next February.

Whether Hope works or not, the UAE have bigger plans in space.

The UAE want to establish "the first inhabitable human settlement" on Mars by 2117.

Part of that plan is its Mars Science City, a collection of laboratories that will investigate the planet, as well as food and energy challenges there and here.

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