The UAE’s MBR Explorer that’s set to travel 5 billion km into deep space will be created in an ambitious 13-year project involving six years of development and seven years of exploration before its launch in the first quarter of 2028.
The spacecraft will travel past Venus using the planet's gravity to alter its velocity shielding from the sun's intense heat and solar wind. The spacecraft is designed to survive extreme variations in temperature. A series of manoeuvers around not only Venus, but Earth and Mars will help keep the spacecraft on its course with each asteroid encounter creating vast new set of data.
Mohammed Al Ameri, technical team of the mission says, “The spacecraft itself has several challenges. We are travelling much further than the Emirates Mars Mission (EMM). The thermal environment and the dynamics are totally different."
"We're going through Venus' flyby and it will be very close to the Sun. This means the temperature will be very high compared to what we had in EMM. Also, we are going to beyond Mars this time which means we will then fly far away from the Sun and then the temperature will be very low.”
Eight times more efficient propulsion system
Engineers clarify that to traverse such large distances, a distinctive propulsion system is imperative. Hence, an array of cutting-edge propulsion systems will be employed in this space expedition.
“We have a solar propulsion system that will allow us to travel long distances which is eight times more efficient compared to traditional propulsion systems. We're going to use it continuously for about three years out of seven years of the mission until we get to the final destination,” adds Al Ameri.
They add that the spacecraft is really power hungry. So, the aim is to create more power from the Sun so that less energy can be generated through its server. They elucidate that the spacecraft, weighing around 2,300 kilograms, will possess autonomous capabilities and will be equipped with exceptionally large foldable solar panels.
He adds, “Another thing is we're flying by the asteroids really fast, so we're talking about 33,000km/hr and it’ll get really close to the asteroid with flybys of about 150km from some of its seven target asteroids."
"So, to get the information and to gather all the science data we need a really a smart navigation component on the spacecraft to do that autonomously. The spacecraft’s communications both ways is around 64 minutes. The spacecraft needs to be autonomous in being able to manoeuvre and respond to whatever we need to do from a conceptual operation perspective.”
The lander has an additional objective to rendezvous with one of the asteroids —specifically, known as (269) Justitia in the year 2034 which will be its home for nearly seven months after its long voyage.
Going into deep space, MBR Explorer will flyby Mars
“We base 50 per cent of this mission from the lessons learnt from the Emirates Mars mission. But this mission is going into a deeper space compared to the EMM. We are passing Mars this time and that adds to the complexity. It’s five times more complex than EMM,” says Mohsen Al Awadhi, project director of the mission at the UAE Space Agency.
“A lot of challenges pertaining to communication, batteries, and solar panels will be there. The solar panel design is not similar to the EMM. This time it’s 10 times bigger than that was Mars mission’s solar panels. I feel this mission is full of challenges and full of opportunities,” he adds.
The seven asteroids that it will explore are 10253 Westerwald, 623 Chimaera, 13294 Rockox, 88055, 23871 and 59980. Following these investigations, the lander will endeavor to rendezvous on 269 Justitia, an enigmatic celestial body displaying a reddish hue and speculated to have originated from a far-flung solar system.
Why does the asteroid belt interest us?
Hoor AlMaazmi, member of the scientific team of the mission says, “This mission will built on what the EMM has created in terms of capabilities. So, it’s become easier for us to involve universities and entities with (space technology capabilities) within the UAE because of what EMM has created.”
“So, the main point of going to the asteroid belt is to better understand the source of water and other minerals. The asteroid belt provides the record for the formation processes of climate in the solar system. We'll be studying their evolution and origin.”
Recent observations revealed that Justitia exhibits a strikingly red colour, which is attributed to the presence of tholins on its surface. This peculiar feature is reminiscent of trans-Neptunian objects, leading scientists to speculate that Justitia may have originated in the outer regions of the Solar System, despite its current location within the asteroid belt.
She adds, “So the asteroids we chose are significant in that they represent different types of asteroids. They come from five asteroid families and represent a diverse set of asteroid classes and types. The final asteroid that we're going to is Justitia which is the most significant asteroid scientifically because it is one of the two reddest asteroids in the asteroid belt. So that's the asteroid that we're also landing on. So, five of them are below 10 kilometres in diameter, and like the others haven’t been visited before and Justitia is around 50 kilometres in diameter.”
Justitia, officially designated as 269 Justitia, is a significant asteroid located in the main asteroid belt with a diameter of approximately 50 kilometers. Its discovery can be attributed to Johann Palisa, who spotted it on September 21, 1887, in Vienna.
The name "Justitia" was chosen for this asteroid, paying homage to the Roman goddess of justice, who is known as Themis in Greek mythology. It is worth noting that another asteroid, 24 Themis, is also named after the same deity.
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