UAE - When the UAE’s Hope probe fires all its thrusters for its most crucial manoeuvre towards the Martian orbit, the hard work of the team that developed its systems from scratch will come into fruition.

During Hope’s upcoming Mars Orbit Insertion (MOI) — the most critical phase of the mission — the spacecraft’s system will be tested for the first time for nearly 30 minutes straight.

“The MOI is one of the most risky phases in the mission. The main reason behind it is because for the first time we use our system and platform that has been developed for deep space to perform this operation for a long time. The previous critical phase was the launch phase, but there we used the MHI launcher. A launcher that has heritage and success rate,” said Omran Sharaf, project director of the Emirates Mars Mission (EMM) during a media briefing on Tuesday.

The EMM team had created its own propulsion system and onboard control systems and software to take Hope from Earth into deep space — all the way to Mars, Sharaf explained.

“The direction from the government since day one was very clear: You have to build it not buy it. This is the system that has been built by our EMM team with our partners that will be put to use in space for 27 minutes non-stop. During this time the speed of the spacecraft will decelerate from its cruising speed of 121,000kmph down to 18,000 kmph to achieve MoI. So there are high risks involved at every stage,” he added.

Hope is expected to enter the Martian orbit on February 9 at 7.42pm (UAE time).

During the complex MoI manoeuvre, there are possible failure scenarios. Assuming one of the six main Delta-V thrusters of the Hope probe stops functioning, different contingency plans are ready, said Suhail Butti Al Dhafri, deputy project manager for the spacecraft.

“If one of the thrusters fails which usually works in pairs, then the probe can function with the remaining two pairs of its thrusters. If six thrusters work, then the spacecraft works for 27 minutes and if two thrusters stop, it will continue firing for a longer period during MOI,” Al Dhafri said.

“Our target is not set by the time. Our target is dependent on Al Amal entering the Martian orbit even if that takes longer, supposing two thrusters are off.”

Communication is key at every step to understand what is happening on the spacecraft, he pointed out.

“Another scenario could be, assuming the spacecraft resets itself. It will stop its operation and restart and reconfigure. This is also considered one of the scenarios. But everything so far looks fine and normal, as we established contact with it on Tuesday (morning). It is moving forward towards the Mars orbit insertion,” Al Dhafri added.

All commands have been tested on a model satellite on ground, called a FlatSat, to gauge the reactions.

It refers to a setup with a high-fidelity representation of the flight model, including hardware and software. FlatSat provides a venue for procedure development, verification and risk reduction testing.

Ali Juma Alsuwaidi, Flatsat engineer, noted: “FlatSat is being used even more during this period of time to run different scenarios that simulate the MOI. The unexpected scenarios are being performed on FlatSat to verify the capabilities and to better understand the different scenarios entailing this event. I think we have run several tests on FlatSat and on the spacecraft, making us feel confident as a team for this upcoming event next week.”

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