The UAE-owned Al Amal probe is preparing to reach orbit around Mars today, Tuesday, after being launched from Earth last year.
For the mission managers in Dubai, it is a nerve-wracking climax in the UAE’s first mission to deep space.
And if the Hope probe succeeds in surveying the Martian atmosphere, the Emirati cabinet hopes the mission will also inspire a new science and technology sector, as the Gulf state looks to transform its economy from dependence on oil.
The Hope probe was launched from the Tanegashima Space Center in Japan last July when Earth and Mars aligned in their orbit around the sun.
Having traveled more than 300 million miles, the probe is scheduled to carry out a complex and fully autonomous maneuver called the Mars Orbit Insertion at 7:30 pm UAE time.
The Mission Control Center in Dubai will not know if the Mars Orbit Insertion exercise began until 7:42 pm UAE time due to a 22-minute round-trip communications delay via NASA’s Deep Space Network.
Real-time manual control is impossible, so the probe needs to perform this orbital maneuver on its own.
The maneuver requires the probe to slow its cruising speed from 121,000 kilometers per hour to 18,000 kilometers per hour in order to safely enter the capture orbit around Mars.
During the maneuver, half of the fuel in the tanks of the probe is burned in order to slow it down to the point that it enters the capture orbit.
The fuel burns using the Delta-V inverter propulsion engines last 30 minutes to slow the probe.
This maneuver should allow the probe to be placed in a capture orbit around the red planet, and after five minutes, mission managers lose contact with the probe as it flies around the far side of Mars, and radio signals are cut off for about 15 minutes.
Sarah al-Amiri, deputy project director for the UAE mission to explore Mars, said: “It has been trained enough times, and we thought about every scenario that might go right or wrong, and it was programmed into the chain of command.
Over the past six years, the Hope Probe mission team of 450 has designed and tested the spacecraft in preparation for the mission.
If all goes well, the mission of the Hope Probe will make the UAE the fifth space-faring power to reach Mars, after the United States, the Soviet Union, the European Space Agency and India.
Over the next two months, the probe will carry out some other maneuvers to move to a closer orbit around Mars, and this will be key to carrying out its main goal of surveying the Martian atmosphere and capturing an integrated picture of the Martian atmosphere and weather.
The probe should orbit Mars every 55 hours and take a complete snapshot every nine days.
And is account The UAE mission to explore Mars, via Twitter, posts updates throughout the mission, while hosting the UAE space agency Live broadcast To control the mission in Dubai starting at 6 pm UAE time before the maneuver begins at 7:30 pm UAE time.
Direct coverage pic.twitter.com/zrTIBYzBJs
– Hope Mars Mission (@HopeMarsMission) February 9, 2021