On February 9, 2021, UAE became the first Arab country to succesfully put a spaceprobe around Mars. The Hope Orbiter (Al Amal) entered into orbit around the Red Planet and the signal was received 11 minutes later (the delay is because of the time its takes for radio signals to reach Earth), at mission control. This makes it only the fifth nation to do so after the US, the Soviet Union, Europe and India, and UAE has done it within seven years from concept to launch. The mission is expected to last one martian year (two Earth years), with the expectation that this might be extended.
Traveling at around 120,000 km/hr relative to the Sun, Hope executed a 27 minute burn on its braking engine, as it approached the planet. This is done to slow down spacecraft, otherwise they would shoot off into deep space.
“With this enormous milestone achieved, we are now preparing to transition to our science orbit and commence science data gathering,” said Omran Sharaf, the Hope mission’s project director at the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre.
Hope carries three instruments on board, all of which will simultaneously observe Mars’ upper and lower atmosphere to:
- understand its climate and global weather
- explain how neutral atoms of hydrogen and oxygen (from the once abundant water on Mars), leak into space and how this leak is impacted by the weather and gravity.
More excitingly, it will return high-resolution, full-disk images of the planet.
At the moment, Hope’s initial ellipse around Mars is as close as 1000 km from the planet and as far as 50,000 km. Subsequently, it will study the atmosphere from an orbit between 20,000 km and 43,000 km, with an orbital period of 55 hours and orbital inclination of 25 degrees, enabling it to carry out some novel research on energy transfer from the top of the atmosphere to the bottom. According to the UAE Space Agency, “No other Mars spacecraft has had such an orbit; most orbit at a single local time that allows the atmosphere to be measured at only one time of day. Hope Probe carries a suite of three instruments which work simultaneously to observe key constituents within the atmosphere.” February is a good month for Mars: China’s Tianwen 1 and NASA’s Perseverance are expected to reach it this month too.