UAE’s mission to Mars likely to launch next week as weather clears

Endeavour intended to stoke Arab and Muslim pride over rich heritage of discovery

The control room of the Mars mission at the Mohamed bin Rashid Space Centre, in the Gulf city of Dubai. Photograph: Giuseppe Cacace/AFP via Getty

The control room of the Mars mission at the Mohamed bin Rashid Space Centre, in the Gulf city of Dubai. Photograph: Giuseppe Cacace/AFP via Getty

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The United Arab Emirates said on Thursday its Mars probe would be launched between July 20th and 22nd as conditions were expected to clear over Japan’s space centre on Tanegashima Island. The mission was postponed twice this week due to heavy rains and strong winds.

The Hope probe is set to travel 60 million kilometres and take seven months to reach the red planet, where it is to take high-resolution photos, study seasonal weather cycles and events and try to discover why there have been dramatic climate changes there.

Projects manager of the mission Omran al-Sharaf told the National daily that mounting the mission during storms could not only “affect the rocket but also endanger the probe”.

Atmospheric conditions must remain stable for 24 hours ahead of the launch, he said. “We didn’t want to take the risk of losing the work we’ve done in the past six years because of launching at an unsuitable time.” The decision to delay was made in consultation with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, the firm that made the rocket carrying the Hope probe.

The launch window will remain open until August 3rd. After this date the mission would have to wait for another two years until Mars and Earth are again in favourable alignment. If the launch takes place this month, the probe is expected to reach Mars orbit in 2021, the year of the UAE federation’s Golden Jubilee .

American co-operation

The probe was built by the Mohamed bin Rashid Space Centre, named for the UAE’s vice president and ruler of Dubai, with the co-operation of the universities of Colorado, Arizona and California. More than 150 Emirati scientists are employed on the $200 million (€175 million) project .

In an interview with Euronews, UAE minister for advanced sciences Sarah al-Amiri warned of the risks: “Only half of these missions succeed in arriving”, she said, adding that the effort encourages people to “drive forward in other sectors.”

She said, “That is what we hope will happen in the Arab world and, anecdotally, that’s what we see happening here in the UAE. We see our children speaking differently, talking more about Mars, talking about how we’re going to get there. It is conversations that we’ve never had in this region.”

The space centre, founded in 2006, seeks to make the UAE into a leader in satellite management and space exploration. In 2019 the centre chose Hazza al- Mansouri to be the first Emirati to go the international space station.

The UAE stresses that the Mars mission is an Arab and Muslim endeavour intended to remind Arabs, Muslims and the world that for 1,000 years Arab scientists were making major discoveries in astronomy, medicine, and mathematics while Europe remained in the Dark Ages.