UAE's 'Hope' probe successfully enters Mars' orbit

UAE's 'Hope' probe successfully enters Mars' orbit
The UAE's 'Hope' - the Arab world's first interplanetary mission - has successfully entered Mars orbit.
3 min read
09 February, 2021
Mission officials in the control room broke into applause [AFP]

The United Arab Emirates' "Hope" probe on Monday successfully entered Mars' orbit, mission officials said, in the Arab world's first interplanetary mission.

"To the people of the UAE, to the Arab and Muslim nations, we announce the succesful arrival to Mars orbit. Praise be to God," said Omran Sharaf, the mission's project manager.

Sharaf and other officials at mission control broke into applause, visibly relieved after a tense half-hour as the probe carried out a "burn" to slow itself enough to be pulled in by Martian gravity, in what was the most perilous stage of the journey.

It rotated and fired all six of its powerful thrusters to dramatically slow its average cruising speed of 121,000 kilometres (75,000 miles) per hour to about 18,000 kph.

Hope, which is designed to reveal the secrets of Martian weather, is the first of three spacecraft to arrive at the Red Planet this month.

The United Arab Emirates, China and the United States all launched missions last July, taking advantage of a period when the Earth and Mars are nearest.

The venture marks the 50th anniversary of the unification of the UAE's seven emirates.

Landmarks across the Gulf state were lit up in red at night and government accounts and police patrol cars emblazoned with the #ArabstoMars hashtag.

Earlier, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, UAE prime minister and Dubai's ruler, had said: "Fifty percent of missions that tried before us were not able to enter orbit."

However, he added, even if the probe did not enter orbit, "we have entered history. This is the farthest point in the universe that Arabs have reached in our history."

In the mission control room, officials in traditional dress, together with face masks, stood behind curved white monitoring stations.

And as the clock ticked down, Dubai's needle-shaped Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest tower, lit up in red with blue laser lights, to the backdrop of dramatic music.

"Twenty-seven blind minutes will determine the fate of seven years of work," Sarah al-Amiri, chairwoman of the UAE Space Agency and minister of state for advanced technology, tweeted this week.

'Bigger objective'

While the probe is designed to provide a comprehensive image of the planet's weather dynamics, it is also a step towards a much more ambitious goal - building a human settlement on Mars within 100 years.

Apart from cementing its status as a key regional player, the UAE also wants the project to serve as a source of inspiration for Arab youth, in a region too often wracked by sectarian conflicts and economic crises.

"This project means a lot for the nation, for the whole region, and for the global scientific and space community," Omran Sharaf, the mission's project manager, told AFP.

"It's not about reaching Mars; it's a tool for a much bigger objective. The government wanted to see a big shift in the mindset of Emirati youth... to expedite the creation of an advanced science and technology sector in the UAE."

To mark the historic moment, the UAE this week projected onto the Dubai night sky images of Mars' two moons - Phobos and Deimos - to allow residents "to see what the probe sees".

Unlike the other two Mars ventures, China's Tianwen-1 and Mars 2020 from the United States, the UAE's probe will not land on the Red Planet.

Hope will use three scientific instruments to monitor the planet's atmosphere, and is expected to begin transmitting data back to Earth in September 2021, to be made available to scientists around the world.

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