UAE announces launch date of Mars probe
Launch date aims to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the UAE.
The UAE's unmanned spacecraft to Mars will be launched during a tight window between July 14 to August 3, 2020, the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) has announced.
The spacecraft, called Hope, has to be launched during that short time frame as there cannot be any unwanted interstellar conditions or objects interfering with the probe's seven-month long journey to Mars. If the dates are missed, it could be another two to two and half-year wait for another launch opportunity.
It will take off from the Tanegashima Space Centre in Japan. The launch date aims to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the UAE.
The UAE's mission to Mars, which falls under MBRSC's Emirates Mars Mission programme (EMM), aims to study what caused water on the red planet to disappear in efforts to learn more about Earth's past and future.
The spacecraft is currently undergoing an "intense testing phase" as the manufacturing stage has already been completed.
Speaking on the first day of the Science Event by the MBRSC, Sarah bint Yousif Al Amiri, the UAE Minister of State for Advanced Sciences, said their main goal is to make breakthrough scientific discoveries with Hope.
"The area of science we are covering feeds into the question of what's happened to the water on Mars. One of the theories is that the building blocks of water - hydrogen and oxygen - escaped from the Martian atmosphere. We're looking at getting a better understanding of the escape of hydrogen and oxygen, but we want to understand more what role Mars itself has in kicking out these building blocks of water from its atmosphere," Al Amiri said.
"So, the weather on Mars, the cloud system and the winds it has - do they interact in such a way that it has caused the planet to get rid of the water? And why do we look at planets that have water? Because our understanding of life requires water for life to exist and that's our knowledge today. To better understand the future of our planet, we need to understand how other planets around us evolved and transformed."
Earth's thinning atmosphere from global warming has posed a serious question within scientific communities around the world. Scientists are also concerned over the rise of carbon dioxide on our planet, which can cause large pools of water to evaporate over time.
Now, space scientists are looking for answers on Mars by studying what caused the water on the planet to disappear.
This will be the country's first mission to Mars, however, Al Amiri insisted that the UAE's aim goes beyond just reaching the red planet and taking an image. She said the country's leaders have directed the space centre to find answers to questions that haven't even been posed by scientists around the world yet.
Because this is the first planet exploratory mission by MBRSC, Al Amiri said they've faced quite a few challenges.
"The biggest challenge is that it's not around Earth - we won't have that communication on a constant basis. The environment is quite harsh, you can't control the spacecraft and that translated a lot into the design of the spacecraft. Another perspective from our side is that the stakeholders are different - for Earth observation satellites, we're taking images for various utilizations. When you're talking about planetary exploration missions, they're all driven by scientific questions and objectives," she said.
"It basically needs to think and act for itself and that requires an entirely new design approach. So, from the onset this has been quite a challenging task that was given to the space centre and there was a large shift from working on traditional Earth-observation satellites to working on planetary exploration missions."
Omran Al Sharaf, the project manager of EMM, said the mission is on track as they are now carrying out the test phase.
"We're currently in the testing phase of the spacecraft, which is going to take about a year or year and half. We'll be going through very intensive and harsh kinds of testing. We're on schedule for it to be ready by mid-2020. We've gone through a lot of interesting challenges - a lot of things that we broke, a lot of things that we fixed and built, but we're on track," Al Sharaf said.
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