Shooting for Mars

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For decades we’ve looked upon the Red Planet as a viable alternative to host life, but we still know relatively little about what form that ‘life’ might take. This month, that changes as we edge that little bit closer to the first crewed mission to Mars.

Between July and August 2020, Earth and Mars align to create an ideal window for Mars mission launches that reduce costs and increase the chances of success. Understandably then, three scheduled launches to Mars will take place this month: NASA’s Perseverance rover is scheduled for launch on 30th July, China’s Tianwen-1 on 23rd – but before that, all eyes are on the new kids on the block, UAE’s Emirates Mars Mission.

Due to launch on the 14th July 2020, the Japanese weather had other ideas and has delayed launch until Monday 20th July at 1.43am UAE time (Sun 19/7 22:43 BST).

At 22:43 BST Sunday 19th July the UAE launch into space exploration with their first interplanetary mission as The Emirates Mars Mission (EMM) takes flight with the Hope Probe; its task – to provide the first ever complete picture of the Martian atmosphere. Catch the launch live here.

Using three scientific instruments on board of the spacecraft, the EMM will provide a better understanding of ​circulation and weather in the lower, middle and upper layers of the Martian atmosphere. The $200 million mission is due to orbit Mars for a full martian year, or 687 days, and will be sharing the data amongst 200 research institutions, including NASA, for free.

If you weren’t already aware of the UAE’s ambitious space plans, we believe you soon will be. Hot on the heels of their Astronaut Programme, which saw the launch of their first Emirati Astronaut to the ISS in September last year, this post-oil economic diversification is about to put UAE on the space map in a big way. We caught up with Talal M. Al Kaissi, Advisor on Strategic Projects at the UAE Space Agency to get his thoughts on this momentous occasion.

Emirates Mars Mission Hope Mission badge

“It’s really surreal to be this close to the historic launch of our spacecraft.” he explains. “Our Emirates Mars Mission “Hope” probe is the culmination of 6 years of very hard work by a dedicated, professional team of young engineers who have helped us prove that nothing is impossible.”

The UAE’s collaborative mission effort and commitment to data sharing has earned them much admiration. Launching from Tanegashima​ Space Centre​ Japan and sourcing help from University of Colorado Boulder, this mission is testament to what can be achieved thanks to a growing commercialisation of the sector, a collaborative approach to space exploration and a dedication to developing expertise in space science and technologies.

As Talal M. Al Kaissi explains “This mission is already a success and has accomplished the goals the government had set in building human capital, acquiring knowledge, forging strong partnerships, and providing the foundation to a space economy and ecosystem in the country. The science objectives will be a bonus, and the STEM education encouraged by this program as well as the inspiration value it induced will continue for years to come.”

The UAE planned to build the Hope probe six years ago, at the same time setting up the Middle East’s first space research centre and announcing the ‘Arab Space Pioneers’ programme. Overseen by the UAE Space Agency, the programme equips talent with the skills and expertise required to expand career prospects in the growing space sector to actively contribute to the global space community. The programme highlights the importance of investing in the multi-faceted space technology as a major driver of the future knowledge-based economy. This is one space mission that has taught us the economic value of investment into STEM space programmes in order to advance the capabilities of the sector and address the future workforce challenges.

Hope is scheduled to reach Mars in February 2021, which coincides with the 50th anniversary of the United Arab Emirates’ formation – that’s a pretty good birthday celebration if you ask us.

Photo by Nicolas Lobos on Unsplash