United Arab Emirates has put a spacefaring object called – Hope – to probe orbit around Mars, making it the fifth spacecraft to enter orbit of the red planet Mars, after the US, the Soviet Union, Europe and India. Hope is first among the three spacefaring vehicle to land at Mars this month. Hope will be followed by Chinese Tianwen-1, to try and enter into orbit of Mars, while the US craft will arrive on 18th February 2021 with another rover. The spacecraft ‘Hope’ was launched from Earth around seven months ago and is about to make orbit insertion. It is moving at a speed of over 120,000km/h (75,000mph), and should fire its braking engine for almost 27 minutes, to be certain of being captured by gravitational force of Mars. Scientists are entering a critical phase, which defines whether UAE spacecraft will reach Mars orbit or will fail, and whether or not researchers will be able to conduct their study. If the spacecraft goes too slow, it might crash, and if it goes too fast, it might skip and miss the orbit. To make sure about safe insertion, engineers worked for months on calculating precise trajectory of the spacecraft to ensure it reaches Mars orbit precisely in the right moment and accurate time to begin braking fire process.
Going ahead, after the success, UAE researchers can now begin its mission to study the red planet’s atmosphere. The communications satellite carries three devices that will help observe behavior of neutral atoms of oxygen and hydrogen. Suspiciously, these atoms significantly affect the ongoing erosion of the planet, and how the planet’s abundant water has been leaking into space. It will also track other features including lofted dust that influences temperature of Mars. During this process, Hope will capture full-disk, high resolution images of Mars. Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Center (MBRSC) mission control center, Dubai will be getting some data streaming on Hope’s performance with regards to its thrusters; however, there will not be any control over the spacecraft, nor intervene in case something goes awry.
Distance between Earth and Mars is approximately 190 Million Kilometers, which means it would take almost 11 minutes for a radio command to the orbit, too much time to help if required. Thus, Hope has to count on autonomy to complete maneuver mission. Additionally, there is a fault-protection system integrated that can help compensate for any issues that might occur while insertion or during probe. The spacecraft carries nearly 800 kilograms of fuel, wherein almost half of it will be consumed by six thrusters that are involved in 27-minute maneuver. Furthermore, soon after engines start to shut down, Hope will disappear to reach other side of Mars as its course bends as per planned initial orbit probe. Meanwhile, MBRSC will have to wait anxiously until the spacecraft team hangs on Nasa’s network again, re-acquiring signal. To collect the observations, Hope will enter near-equatorial orbit away from Mars at a distance of 22,000 kilometers to 44,000 kilometers.
Enthusiasm across UAE is palpable as various buildings has been lit up in red. The country is relying on the mission to be an inspiration to the youth and future generations to take up STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) subjects at every education levels. The UAE had approached several research institutions in the US such as Arizona State University; the University of California at Berkeley, and the University of Colorado, Boulder to act as their mentors for this mission’s success. This also gave opportunity for personal friendships that could go forward long post the mission.