French help for UAE’s Mars mission

French help for UAE’s Mars mission

Agreement between UAE Space Agency and French counterpart to be signed

By Silvia Radan - Reporter, Abu Dhabi

Published: Sat 28 Feb 2015, 12:50 AM

Last updated: Thu 25 Jun 2015, 10:29 PM

Abu Dhabi — In August last year, the UAE had announced the creation of a space agency and in October the newly established UAE Space Agency, in cooperation with the Emirates Institution for Advanced Science and Technology (EIAST), announced plans to build an unmanned probe that will be send to Mars to collect data hopefully leading to scientific discoveries.

The UAE robotic spacecraft is not meant to land on Mars, but to orbit the Red Planet and to measure atmospheric data, something that no other Mars probes have ever done before. If successful, the Emirati probe could bring home the answer to what happened to Mars’ waters. Starting from scratch, with the training of scientists, the mission’s deadline is not before 2021, coinciding with the nation’s 50th anniversary.

The news was received with slight scepticism in Europe, with critics claiming it is possible to do it in theory, as few others already have, but practically the challenges are too big even for well, long established space agencies. But Jean-Yves Le Gall is not among them.

Le Gall, president of the French Spatial Agency (CNES) was in Abu Dhabi this week to talk to its counterpart here, the UAE Space Agency, about the mission to Mars.

An agreement was even expected to be signed before the end of the week, but talks are not over yet. “We are considering the possibility of using the skills of CNES to perform the Mars mission,” said Le Gall.

According to him, CNES could help the UAE both with scientific expertise and with scientists’ training. “In my opinion, we could help on two points; firstly we have real scientific expertise — we are already on Mars, with Nasa, with the European Space Agency and with Russia,” he explained.

“We have also in our huge Toulouse space centre, in the south of France, a long tradition of training people.

“I think in the UAE there is more and more progress made. There are already three satellites developed, Dubai’s Sat1 and Sat2, which are already launched and now another one, Khalifasat, which will be launched soon, and I’m impressed! I visited them several times and the level of expertise is impressive and, of course, the level of expertise will continue to improve,” said Le Gall.

“This is a very important mission. A few billion years ago Mars was covered with oceans. These oceans disappeared and nobody knows why. If we could understand why this water disappeared, we would learn many things about Mars, and many things about Earth, because the theory of the evolution of oceans on Mars could be applied for Earth, as well,” revealed Le Gall.


The Red Planet

Much smaller than Earth and nicknamed the Red Planet due to the iron oxide found on its surface, Mars became the centre of attention of Nasa in 2003.

So far, the US has four missions on Mars and the Europeans succeeded their first mission on the Red Planet, through the European Space Agency in 2003, as well.

“Going to the Moon is quite easy, it’s not too long, about three days, there are no psychological problems, but going to Mars is a very long mission; it takes nine months to get there, then you have to stay at least six months on Mars, and then another nine months to come back; this means you cannot go in a small capsule, you have to go in a space station, something that looks like the 2001 Space Odyssey (movie) spacecraft, and you cannot sent people for a very long journey, almost three years, if you are not sure they have reasonable chances to come back alive,” pointed out Le Gall.

More news from