The United Arab Emirates has become the fifth nation to ever reach Mars, with its space probe successfully inserting into Martian orbit at 3.57pm UK time on Tuesday.
The probe, named Hope in English (Amal in Arabic), completed a tricky manoeuvre to enter into orbit after a seven month flight in which it covered more than 493 million kilometres following its launch from Tanegashima in Japan.
The Emirates Mars Mission is the first of three space missions due to reach Mars this month, and is being rapidly followed by China’s Tianwen-1 orbiter and lander, and NASA’s Perseverance rover.
Firing its six delta-v thrusters for 27 minutes to slow it from a cruising speed of 121,000 km/h to just 18,000 km/h, the Hope spacecraft was able to move into what is called its “capture orbit” where it will remain until its scientific instruments have been calibrated and it can descend to its science orbit.
The £160m satellite aims to provide a picture of the Martian atmosphere and study daily and seasonal changes on the planet, as well advancing the UAE’s science and technology sector, enabling it to move away from its economic reliance on oil.
The spacecraft itself was designed and assembled by researchers at three American universities – the University of Colorado Boulder, Arizona State University, and the University of California, Berkeley.
Scientists believe Mars was once abundant with water, and very possibly life. The UAE Space Agency said: “One of the culprits of the transformation of this planet into a dry, dusty one is climate change and atmospheric loss.”
The agency’s probe will monitor the Martian weather system, as well as the distribution of hydrogen and oxygen in the upper portions of Mars’ atmosphere – enabling humanity to understand the link between weather change and atmospheric loss.
“Using three scientific instruments on board of the spacecraft, EMM will provide a set of measurements fundamental to an improved understanding of circulation and weather in the Martian lower and middle atmosphere,” according to the Emirati space agency.
“Combining such data with the monitoring of the upper layers of the atmosphere, EMM measurements will reveal the mechanisms behind the upward transport of energy and particles, and the subsequent escape of atmospheric particles from the gravity of Mars.”
The mission makes the United Arab Emirates the first Arab nation to reach Mars, and the fifth space agency to get there overall after the United States, Russia, the European Space Agency, and India.
It is being followed by China’s Tianwen-1 spacecraft which is expected to insert itself into Mars orbit in the coming days, with a rover landing expected in April.
Although NASA’s Perseverance rover will arrive at Mars later than Tianwen-1, it will land earlier and it has no orbiter component, with a scheduled date of 18 February.
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