UAE officials hail successful launch of space mission carrying first Emirati astronaut

This mission reflects the ability of Emiratis to undertake ambitious missions that support the global effort to create a better future for humanity and develop solutions for current and future challenges


Government of Dubai Media Office: UAE officials hailed the successful launch of the International Space Station mission carrying Hazzaa AlMansoori, the first Emirati astronaut, aboard the Russian spacecraft Soyuz MS-15.

Highlighting the significance of this accomplishment, His Excellency Dr. Ahmad Belhoul Al Falasi, Minister of State for Higher Education and Advanced Skills and Chairman of the UAE Space Agency said, “Our country has taken a giant step towards implementing the vision of our leadership. This mission reflects the ability of Emiratis to undertake ambitious missions that support the global effort to create a better future for humanity and develop solutions for current and future challenges.”

“This is a historic moment for the UAE space sector as it marks the start of a new phase of growth in which it is emerging as a global leader in many fields. This has been made possible by the vision of President of the UAE His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan; the continuous support and guidance of  Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum; and the follow up of His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces,” Al Falasi said.

His Excellency Hamad Obaid AlMansoori, Chairman of MBRSC said, “A few moments ago, we watched  Hazzaa AlMansoori travel to space, inaugurating a new era of achievements for our beloved country, the United Arab Emirates. We are filled with pride and joy for witnessing this historic event. But we also pray for Hazzaa AlMansoori's safe arrival to the place that he worked hard to reach, along with an Emirati team and local and international partners. Today, we see the effort of the entire team in implementing the vision of our wise leadership on ground”.

“Today, we witnessed the launch of the first rocket carrying an Emirati astronaut. This is only the beginning. I’m confident that this mission will be a true inspiration for youth who now see Hazzaa AlMansoori as their role model. I believe that Emirati youth are as dedicated and responsible as Hazzaa AlMansoori and Sultan AlNeyadi, and will work to achieve their ambitions and those of our wise leadership, to create a promising future for the space sector,” added AlMansoori.

AlMansoori thanked the UAE’s leadership headed by His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE, His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, and His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, for their guidance. He also thanked all the attendees at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, and applauded their support to the families of the Emirati astronauts through their presence with them and with the UAE Astronaut Programme’s team on this special occasion.

His Excellency Yousuf Hamad AlShaibani, Director General of MBRSC, said, “25th of September 2019 will remain a turning point in the history of the UAE, and a day of pride for every Arab and Emirati living in the UAE. Today, we see a dream that began in the 1970s, turning into a reality, with ‘Zayed’s Ambition’, aboard the rocket that was launched today."

“We appreciate the support of the UAE’s wise leadership, which is keen on encouraging Emiratis to keep abreast of developments in all sectors, including the space sector, which we have succeeded to consolidate its foundations in the country. We also appreciate the continuous support that we receive from His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Chairman of the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre. We also thank the people of the UAE and the world for witnessing this historic event and supporting Hazzaa AlMansoori in his mission to the ISS. We are now waiting for the crew’s safe arrival, and the beginning of the first scientific mission to be conducted by an Arab astronaut at the ISS,” added AlShaibani.

Salem AlMarri, Head of the UAE Astronaut Programme, said, “The success of the launch was the result of strategic partnerships with major global space agencies, including the Russian Roscosmos, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the European Space Agency (ESA), and the US Space Agency (NASA), as part of the vision of the UAE’s wise leadership to prepare Emirati cadres to make further achievements in the space research, space science, and the space industry as a whole”.

Launch phases

MBRSC highlighted that the launch of the Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft was carried out using a Soyuz FG rocket, the most commonly used and most reliable in the history of human spaceflights. The Soyuz MS-15 is divided into three parts: The first part is an orbital unit which includes facilities for astronauts. It also contains a storage area and the docking unit. The second part contains the landing unit, where astronauts sit during take-off and landing, and it is the part responsible for controlling the spacecraft. The third part includes a propulsion unit containing fuel and the Soyuz vehicle engines.

The launch began with the astronauts wearing the Sokol spacesuit in preparation for the mission, then bidding farewell to their family and friends from behind a glass wall, and then got on two buses carrying the main and back-up crew, to the launch site.

As for the flight details, MBRSC explained that 2.5 hours before the launch, the astronauts boarded the Soyuz rocket, where their spacesuits were linked to the vehicle’s ventilation system, in addition to conducting system tests, preparing the vehicle and communicating with the team on ground. The vehicle's hatch was then closed, and procedures for checking air leaks and emergency and survival systems began.

At the start of the automatic countdown, the astronauts wore their helmets, the pilot's control system began to operate, the launch key was inserted, and 60 seconds before launch, the external power was disconnected from the spacecraft and the internal power was switched on. 35 seconds before the launch, automatic operation started, and the launch order was issued at 12 seconds prior to the launch. The Soyuz rocket launched at 5:57 pm UAE time.

During the launch, the Soyuz rocket propulsion took place through the four side boosters along with the rocket's central block, or the core mass, to provide additional thrust. The rocket then began orbital maneuvers to get the right orientation to the desired orbit, and at this moment, the crew was subjected to an acceleration force of up to 1.5 G.

Two minutes after the launch, the rocket was 40 km high. At this stage, the launch escape tower on top of the rocket was jettisoned. A few seconds later, the four side engines burnt up all their fuel and completed delivering their thrust. They were jettisoned from the sides of the rocket to complete the first phase of the launch.

In the second stage, the astronauts were exposed to a gravitational force of 3.5 G, and after 2 minutes and 40 seconds, the structure which protects the spacecraft was jettisoned, and the debris followed a safe path down to Earth, 530 km from the launch site.

Following these stages, the Soyuz MS-15 was in space, with astronauts seeing the light outside the crew compartment through small windows.

Nearly 5 minutes after the launch, the third stage was ignited. The engine gave the final thrust for 4 minutes. Once the correct orbit was reached at a height of 220 km, and almost nine minutes after liftoff, the intense acceleration came to an end and the third stage stopped firing. The Soyuz spacecraftthen got separated from the main body of the rocket, communication antennas and solar panels were opened, and the spacecraft began to approach the ISS in preparation for docking.

MBRSC conducted a live broadcast at its headquarters, at the time of Al Mansoori’s launch aboard a Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft to the ISS, in the UAE’s first human spaceflight. The launch was followed by a group of engineers from Roscosmos control center and the NASA ground station in Houston, as well as MBRSC’s ground station in Dubai, and around the world.

Soyuz spacecraft

Since its launch in 1967, Soyuz has been used for space travels. Travel on board the Russian Soyuz became the only means for astronauts to reach the ISS since 2011, after NASA’s Space Shuttle Retirement in 2011. At least one Soyuz spacecraft is docked to the ISS at all times for use as an escape craft in the event of an emergency.

Soyuz rocket

The rocket, which is carrying the capsule during the launch, is from the Soyuz family. The launch system was developed by Korolev Rocket and Space Corporation Energia, and manufactured by the Progress Rocket Space Centre in Samara, Russia.

International Space Station

ISS orbits at 408 kilometers above sea level. Hundreds of scientific and technical experiments and research were conducted aboard the station, enabling scientists and astronauts to make spectacular discoveries that were unreachable on Earth.

ISS is in a fixed low Earth orbit and travels at 28,800 km/hour, which means it takes just 90 minutes to complete an entire orbit of our planet. An international crew of six people call ISS their home at any one time, spending several hours each per week, conducting in-depth research across various disciplines, ranging from space and physical sciences to biological and earth sciences from the microgravity laboratory. Since the year 2000, the space station has been continually occupied, with 237 people spending time there from 18 countries. Now, for the first time, an Emirati will join the crew on the space station, making the UAE the 19th country to travel to the ISS.

Hazzaa Al Mansoori and Sultan Al Neyadi’s journey

The UAE Astronaut Programme was launched in April 2017 by His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, and His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, with the objective to train and prepare the first Emirati astronaut corps to be sent to space for various scientific missions.

On 6 December 2017, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, announced the e-registration for the UAE Astronaut Programme in a tweet: "I invite young Emiratis to register for the UAE Astronaut Programme through the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre. The most competitive applicants will be selected to be ambassadors for the UAE in space exploration. However, every single Emirati will contribute in his or her own way to the future of the UAE, whether it’s on land, or in the skies.”

Hazzaa and Sultan responded to His Highness’ invitation, along with 4,020 applicants, to the UAE Astronaut Programme. The Committee shortlisted over 200 candidates who went through psychometric tests, according to the highest international standards. Months after the initial selection phase, 95 candidates were shortlisted. These candidates underwent medical and psychological tests at Etihad Airways Medical Centre. Specialised doctors conducted intensive tests for the candidates, according to the highest standards set by international space agencies. MBRSC later announced that 38 candidates qualified for the preliminary interview phase of the evaluation process, which included extensive tests and interviews conducted by the initial interview committee, which included qualified experts from MBRSC.

The assessments included the applicants’ intelligence (IQ) score, emotional stability, adaptability and many more competencies. Later, MBRSC announced that 18 candidates were shortlisted for the final phase of interviews by a top panel of experts from MBRSC and international space agencies, from which, 9 candidates were selected to undergo an intensive three-week evaluation in Russia at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre. The tests were conducted by experts from the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre, and included 14-day medical and physical tests to ensure that candidates were ready to participate in space flight training and related tasks. On 3 September 2018, the UAE announced the names of the first two Emirati astronauts; Hazzaa Al Mansoori and Sultan Al Neyadi.

The training journey

The preparations for this mission which began in September 2018, with extensive training for Hazzaa AlMansoori and Sultan AlNeyadi. The two astronauts began their training by learning the Russian language at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center at Star City in Moscow, as it was a key requirement to proceed to the following training on the Soyuz vehicle and for takeoff and landing. Their physical training also began during the same period, and lasted until the last day of training on September 10.

Over the course of one year, the astronauts underwent more than 90 courses, with the total number of training hours for astronauts exceeding 1,400 hours. The trainings were conducted according to partnership agreements with major space agencies, NASA, ESA, JAXA, and Roscosmos, in Moscow, Dubai, Houston in Texas, and Cologne in Germany. Then, the reaction of vital indicators of the astronaut’s body were examined to be compared with the results after the trip, to determine the effect of zero gravity on the astronaut's body.

The training programme, prepared specifically for the 25 September mission, included various topics. These included training on AlMansoori’s scientific mission, briefing the astronauts through comprehensive training on all sections and units of the ISS and how to use its devices and equipment, emergency fire drills, dealing with low pressure and ammonia leak inside the station, in addition to survival training if the capsule had to land in a cold forest. They also trained on the spacesuit, weighing up to 10 kgs and how to wear at zero gravity.

To make the astronaut’s stay aboard the ISS a comfortable one, the two astronauts were trained to perform daily tasks such as preparing food, how to use the camera to document events, taking pictures of the Earth, communicating with the ground stations, and other day-to-day tasks during the mission.

Integrated programme

The mission is part of the UAE Astronaut Programme, which is overseen by the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC). The UAE Astronaut Programme is the first integrated programme in the Arab region to prepare national cadres to participate in human space flights and carry out various scientific missions, in addition to becoming a part of the research carried out by the global scientific community to devise solutions to many challenges facing humanity.

The UAE Astronaut Programme is funded by the ICT fund of the TRA. Launched in 2007, this fund, which is the first of its kind in the Arab world, aims towards supporting research and development within the ICT sector in the UAE, helping it to grow into a nationally significant industry with a leading place in the world.

© Press Release 2019

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