Emirates Mars Mission

The first Arab space mission to Mars called the Emirates Mars Mission left from aboard a rocket from Japan, after an initial delay due to bad weather. The launch of “Mars Hope” comes at the end of a six-year development path by the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center team, a rather accelerated period of time according to interplanetary mission standards.
From the Tanegashima Space Centre off the southern coast of Japan at 01:58:14 (UAE time), the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries H-IIA F42 missile took off.
This was carrying the el-Amal (“HOPE” in English) probe built by the United Arab Emirates.

The al-Amal mission, which will last two years, for a total estimated cost of around 200 million dollars, almost 175 million euros, was ordered directly by the Dubai government in 2014, when the UAE still did not even have a space agency. The project in question was carried out by the United Arab Emirates in collaboration with three US universities and Japan.

The goal is to bring the probe into orbit around Mars by December 2, 2021, when the Arab country will celebrate its first 50 years of existence, the so-called “Golden Jubilee”. To reach its destination, Hope will have to travel many kilometres, more or less 500 million at an average speed of 121,000 km/h.

Once arrived, al-Amal will enter into a strongly elliptical orbit, very different from the trajectories of all the other missions that have taken place around the red planet.

The main scientific objective of the mission is to study the dynamics of the Martian atmosphere both in its diurnal variations and as the seasons pass.

Hope will then act as a Martian meteorological satellite, providing updates on dust storms and ice clouds on Mars, monitoring the weather at different times of the day and the various seasonal changes.

It will also monitor oxygen and hydrogen levels.

To answer these questions, Hope is equipped with three different instruments, a high-resolution digital camera (Emirates Exploration Imager), and two spectrometers.

One infrared (Emirates Mars Infrared Spectrometer) and one ultraviolet (Emirates Mars Ultraviolet Spectrometer).

The first will provide detailed images of the planet’s surface, while all three will collect data that will allow scientists to track what elements are in the atmosphere of Mars.

The Emirate government has announced that the data collected by the probe will be released immediately and will be open and available to the entire international scientific community.

What is certain is that thanks to this take-off the space agency of the United Arab Emirates has entered into history.

The mission has the objective of boosting the technological and scientific sectors of the nation, also because the United Arab Emirates are looking for an economic model capable of supporting them beyond their oil wealth.

In this sense, Omran Sharaf, the project leader of the mission, said: “The United Arab Emirates want to support the creation of a creative, innovative and competitive economy based on knowledge and not exclusively on oil”.

The project leader went on to say: “The Emirates wanted to send a strong message to the young Arabs and remind them the past, that we were generators of knowledge”.

Historically, in fact, the Arabs have been one of the sources of innovation and science, responsible not only for contributing but also for perfecting various subjects of study and application, from algebra to astronomy, from calculus to chemistry and from philosophy to medicine, making the world richer with their culture and literature.

The intention is therefore to bring the United Arab Emirates towards a knowledge-based economy. The mission in this sense is already giving the first concrete results, with the establishment of five new degree courses in scientific subjects and a growing enthusiasm for space among children.

Hope is not an isolated initiative, but a stage in the Mars 2117 programme launched by the Arab Emirates three years ago with the very ambitious aim of establishing a human settlement on Mars within 100 years.

“Al-Amal belongs to millions of young people in this region who desire progress, inspiration and opportunity.” “It is a direct challenge for those who want to repress these aspirations,” tweeted Hend al-Otaiba, director of strategic communications for the UAE Foreign Minister.

The director went on to say, “I think every Arab on the face of the planet should go around feeling proud of what we have achieved today”.

For a country that has almost no planetary scientific expertise, this has been a tough challenge. The challenge has now been won thanks in part to the fact that the scientists involved in the mission consulted experts from all over the world and worked together towards a common goal.

The launch from Japan therefore started a series of take-offs that took advantage of a three-week window of favorable orbital alignment between Earth and Mars. 

This occurs only every 26 months.

In fact, China is the next to go, with a mission called Tianwen-1 scheduled for July 23. The mission will include an orbiting aircraft, a lander and a rover and will aim to address questions about the geology and environment of the Red Planet.

Next, NASA’s long-awaited Mars 2020 mission is moving towards the countdown on July 30. It will then be the turn of the Perseverance rover that will land on a crater called Jezero.

The rover in question is enormous in size, has six wheels and carries a small helicopter, Ingenuity. If it goes as it should, it will become the first aircraft in history to fly to another planet.

The Emirates Mars Mission will then join a team of six other spacecraft that study the red planet from space, three managed by NASA, two by the European Space Agency (one shared with Russia) and one by India. Each of them has different tools to develop further research on the Martian atmosphere and surface.

A fourth mission, the joint Russian-European rover Rosalind Franklin, also had to be launched this summer. But the technical obstacles, aggravated by the coronavirus pandemic, could not be overcome in time to meet the launch window. The launch was therefore postponed and will be scheduled in 2022.

One point not to underestimate and to highlight positively is the role that Sarah al-Amiri plays. Sarah al-Amiri is a woman and has taken on one of the key roles in the Emirates Mars Mission project, in a country that, despite the progress made in recent years, is still chauvinist and patriarchal.

Sarah al-Amiri began to dream about the universe when at the age of 12 she saw the image of the Andromeda Galaxy, the Galaxy closest to the Milky Way.

Although al-Amiri initially started working as a computer engineer, she later moved into space technology at the Emirates Institution for Advanced Science and Technology, where she worked on the first satellites of the United Arab Emirates. A dream come true.

In 2016 she was appointed head of the Emirates Science Council, the following year in 2017 the government promoted her to lead the new ministerial cabinet for the development of advanced science. Today she has become deputy project manager and science officer of the Mars mission.

Sarah al-Amiri explained the reason for the name Hope: “The mission is called in this way because we are contributing to the global understanding of a planet,” she said. “We are going beyond the turbulences that are defining our region and contributing positively to science”.

The role this woman has taken on is truly significant, the position she has achieved has changed the social norms of the country in a certain way.

In the United Arab Emirates, in fact, the workforce represented by women is just over 28%. In slight countertendency, however, the presence of women in the Emirates Mars Mission that represent 34% of the workforce. If we instead take into consideration the scientific team with which Sarah al-Amiri decided to work, women represent 80%.

The scientific director therefore hopes to strengthen these figures by increasing the involvement of girls from the Emirates in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The top position she has achieved has allowed her to expand her portfolio of expertise. This is therefore not limited exclusively to space missions.

As Minister of State for Advanced Sciences, al-Amiri’s mandate includes the objective of strengthening the advanced sciences for the development of the United Arab Emirates and its economy. Moreover, her role is also to foster international relations with other countries through science, exchange of information and knowledge.

In these terms according to Sarah al-Amiri: “Science for me is the most international form of collaboration. It is without limits, it is without boundaries and it is managed by the passions of individuals for the benefit of human understanding”.

What is certain is that she is a very determined woman who has a vision that does not stop at today but also sees in perspective even from an economic point of view, in this regard last Monday she made a speech to the official press agency Emirates in which she defined her vision very well.

The scientific director of the Emirates Mars Mission project, Sarah al-Amiri, has in fact stated that: “When we talk about the economy of the United Arab Emirates over the next 30 years, one of its bases is science and technology because we want to have a knowledge-based economy – knowledge of production, use of knowledge and creation of immaterial goods”.

She concluded by saying, “This is how the most sustainable economies in the world work”.

By Michele Brunori

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