The UAE’s first mission to Mars, Hope Probe, is set to reach the Red planet in a month’s time. The spacecraft is expected to enter orbit of the second-smallest planet in the solar system on February 9 at 7:42pm UAE time.
The mission’s Hope orbiter will reach Mars in 2021, coinciding with the UAE’s golden jubilee celebrations.
Though the pandemic put a spanner to the space operations around the globe last year, a few high-priority missions were on track and one of them was led by the UAE in its race to Mars.
A navigational camera known as ‘star tracker’ helps ensure that the UAE spacecraft, which has travelled more than 400 million kilometres since its launch on July 20, 2020, stays on the correct path to the Red planet.
During the Mars Orbit Insertion (MOI) phase, the Ground and Space Segments are kept to a minimum while the team focuses on safely entering a capture orbit at Mars.
Nearly half of the fuel is spent to slow the Hope Probe down enough to capture Mars’ orbit. The fuel burn, or the firing of the Delta-V thrusters, will last approximately 30 minutes and reduces the speed of the spacecraft.
Experts said there are imminent risks involved at every stage and it is critical to manage them amid the space odyssey.
Omran Sharaf, the Project Director of the Emirates Mars Mission, said: “We have to reduce the speed of the spacecraft from an average of 120,000kmph down to ultimately 18,000kmph for which we have to flip the spacecraft and fire the thruster. There are more than 20 minutes delay in communication. Fortunately, we’ve a dedicated team to manage the risks.”
As radio signals from Mars take 13 to 26 minutes to travel to Earth, the team will not be able to intervene with the Hope Probe. The operation is 100 per cent automated. Once the Mars Orbit Insertion is completed, the Hope Probe will ‘go dark’ — eclipsed by Mars — and then the communication will be re-established.
This will help the team to ascertain that the manoeuvre has succeeded. The first contact with the observatory after MOI will likely come from the ground station in Spain.
Earlier, Sharaf had pointed out: “Missions like these are at risk from the outset. The prevailing pandemic posed a different risk. We managed to overcome those risks as well. Spacecraft will be exposed to both solar and electric radiation. It’s important to determine the risks early on, manage and mitigate the risks before they turn into anomalies.”
Since the MOI phase is as critical as the launch phase, the spacecraft will need to be commissioned again and the instruments onboard tested before entering the science phase.
“MOI is the procedure of setting a spacecraft into a stable orbit of any planet or celestial body by adjusting its momentum and speed. It needs to happen at exactly the right place and time. The spacecraft can be captured by the planet’s gravity,” said Sarath Raj, Programme Leader for Aerospace Engineering & Project Director of the Amity Dubai Satellite Ground Station.
The first image of Mars from the probe’s scientific instruments will be taken at this stage.
Raj added: “We will be able to grab some insights on the variation of the colour of the atmosphere as the probe gets closer to it.”
The aim of the Hope Probe is to understand the climate dynamics and the climatic behavior through characterising the lower atmosphere of Mars. It will aid scientists in the UAE and experts in the field globally to explain how the weather of Mars changes the dynamics with the escape of hydrogen and oxygen.
It inspires a new generation of the youth living in the UAE, to work and explore the space sector. The success of this mission will take the country to greater heights as UAE is the first Arab country to launch an interplanetary mission.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice-President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, had said in November: “Even before reaching its orbit, the Emirates Mars Mission’s Hope probe has succeeded in instilling a new culture in the hearts and minds of this nation’s men and women – a culture that prioritises science in shaping our future and reiterates our nation’s limitless ambitions after successfully entering space. We have become the first Arab country to succeed in exploring a planet, and our nation joins an exclusive group of only seven countries that have explored Mars.”
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