AFP, published on Sunday 07 February 2021 at 18:07
The United Arab Emirates’ “Hope” probe is expected to reach Mars orbit on Tuesday almost seven months after its launch, making it the first of three missions scheduled for February to the Red Planet.
China and the United States also launched missions to this planet in July, taking advantage of the time when Earth and Mars are closest.
If successful in orbiting, the Emiratis will become the fifth to reach Mars – a venture set to mark the 50th anniversary of the unification of the country’s emirates – and the Chinese the sixth the next day.
Only the United States, India, the former Soviet Union and the European Space Agency have managed to reach the Red Planet in the past.
After taking off from Japan, the probe named “Al-Amal” (“Hope” in English, “Espoir” in French) is now facing its “most critical and complex” maneuver, according to Emirati officials, with a one in two chance of successfully entering orbit.
The craft must slow down considerably to be captured by Martian gravity, igniting its six Delta-V thrusters for 27 minutes to reduce its cruising speed from 121,000 km / h to around 18,000.
The process, which will consume half of its fuel, will begin at 3:30 p.m. GMT on Tuesday and it will take 11 minutes for a signal of its progress to reach the control room on land.
– “Immense honor” –
In the meantime, the monuments of the Emirates are illuminated in red, government accounts are presented under the hashtag #ArabstoMars, and Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the tallest tower in the world, will be the center of a festive spectacle.
“Hope” will orbit the planet for at least one Martian year, or 687 days, while the Chinese “Tianwen-1” and the American “Perseverance Mars 2020” rover will both land on the surface of Mars.
Omran Sharaf, the UAE mission’s project manager, said it was a “huge honor” for “Hope” to be the first of three missions to reach Mars.
“It was not a race for us. We approach space as a spirit of collaboration and inclusion,” he added, however.
While “Hope” is designed to provide a complete picture of the meteorological dynamics of the planet, the probe is the basis of a larger goal: the construction of a human colony on Mars within the next 100 years.
While consolidating their status as a key regional actor, the Emirates want the project to serve as a source of inspiration for Arab youth, in a region too often torn by conflicts and economic crises.
“Hope” will use three scientific instruments to monitor the Martian atmosphere, and is expected to begin transmitting information to Earth in September 2021, with the data being made available to scientists around the world for them to use.
– Chinese and American missions –
The Chinese craft Tianwen-1 has already sent its first image of Mars: a black and white photo that shows geological features, including the Schiaparelli crater and the Valles Marineris, a vast expanse of canyons.
The five-ton Tianwen-1 features an orbiter, lander, and solar-powered rover that for three months will study the planet’s soil and atmosphere, take photos, map and search for signs of life.
China hopes to land the 240-kilogram rover in May in Utopia, a Mars basin. Its orbiter will last a Martian year.
This is not China’s first attempt to reach Mars. A previous mission with Russia in 2011 ended prematurely when the launch failed.
NASA’s mission “Perseverance” is scheduled to land on the Red Planet on February 18 and become the fifth American rover to complete the trip since 1997.
He’s on an astrobiology mission to look for signs of microbial life and will attempt to fly a 1.8kg helicopter-drone to another planet for the first time.
Capable of autonomously navigating 200 meters per day, it will collect rock samples that could provide invaluable clues to the existence of past life on Mars.
About the size of a small SUV, it weighs a ton, has 19 cameras and two microphones, which scientists hope will record sound on Mars for the first time.
The mission is expected to last at least two years.