Exclusive: UAE will achieve its Moon landing dream with Rashid Rover 2, says top official

'Work has begun on next lunar mission': Space centre chief talks about Sheikh Mohammed's visit and how it motivated the team

By Sahim Salim, Angel Tesorero

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Illustrative image of Rashid Rover.
Illustrative image of Rashid Rover.

Published: Thu 4 May 2023, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Thu 4 May 2023, 10:26 PM

The team at Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) has already started working on the new lunar rover called Rashid 2 that will bring the UAE to the surface of the Moon, MBRSC director general Salem Al Marri has confirmed to Khaleej Times.

MBRSC director general Salem Al Marri
MBRSC director general Salem Al Marri

The deployment of the first Rashid Rover on the Moon on April 25 did not materialise after Hakuto-R Mission 1, the Japanese-made lunar lander, failed to accomplish a soft landing on the lunar surface.


The spacecraft built by private company Ispace was few moments away from touchdown when the ground control team in Tokyo lost communication with it. "It apparently went into a free-fall towards the surface as it was running out of fuel to fire up its thrusters," Ispace said.

Image used for illustrative purpose. Photo: ispace
Image used for illustrative purpose. Photo: ispace

Had Hakuto-R landed successfully, the UAE-made lunar rover that was secured inside the lander by a robotic arm would have rolled out for its science mission on the Moon's Atlas crater located on the outer edge of Mare Frigoris (Sea of Cold), a never-before explored area in the northeastern quadrant of the Moon. It was tasked to study the Moon’s surroundings for one lunar day, which is equivalent to 14.75 days on Earth. It was also equipped with sensors and systems to analyse the properties of regolith (lunar soil), dust, as well as radioactive and electrical activities.


Measuring only 70cm X 50cm X 50m and weighing approximately 10kg with payload, Rashid Rover would have had the distinction of being the smallest lunar rover to have landed on the Moon. That would have also made the UAE and Ispace jointly only the fourth country and private entity that would have landed on the Moon, aside from the US, former Soviet Union and China.

A model of the lunar rover. Photo: Reuters
A model of the lunar rover. Photo: Reuters

“We have performed a successful mission"

But it was not a failure, AlMarri, who has around two decades of experience in engineering and space exploration under his belt, asserted during an exclusive phone interview with Khaleej Times on Wednesday.

AlMarri said, personally, he would have really loved to see images of the first Rashid Rover on the Moon. But he was also aware that lunar landings are difficult and only have a 50 per cent success rate.

He recalled less than an hour before Hakuto-R’s scheduled landing, he made a realistic assessment of any outcome.

He tweeted earlier that day: “Whatever the outcome of the mission is, we have performed a successful mission. We succeeded in building capabilities, partnerships and initiating a promising path for exploration missions.”

AlMarri thanked MBRSC’s international partners and especially the 50+ team members who completed the mission, as well as Dr. Hamad AlMarzooqi, who led the first Emirates Lunar Mission (ELM).

“The mission reflects the best of today's space sector, with our local capabilities developing missions in collaboration with partners from around the world, with the goal of achieving success together,” he added in his tweet.

A model of the lander in HAKUTO-R lunar exploration program by 'ispace' is pictured at a venue to monitor its landing on the Moon, in Tokyo, Japan. Photo: Reuters
A model of the lander in HAKUTO-R lunar exploration program by "ispace" is pictured at a venue to monitor its landing on the Moon, in Tokyo, Japan. Photo: Reuters

On to the next mission

The mood at MBRSC the day after the likely crash of Hakuto-R carrying Rashid Rover was optimistic. “Hopefully, we will achieve that dream in the next mission,” AlMarri said.

The team also got a boost of confidence after His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, visited MBRSC on April 26 and directed the team to immediately start implementing the Rashid 2 project.

Both rovers are named after the late Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, the builder of modern Dubai, and father of Sheikh Mohammed.

“The mission of the spacecraft carrying the Rashid Rover did not succeed in landing on the Moon. However, we succeeded in raising the ceiling of our ambitions to reach the Moon,” Sheikh Mohammed tweeted that day, adding: “We succeeded in creating a team of young men and women capable of managing advanced space projects. We succeeded in building a space sector from scratch within 10 years.”

Led by Dr. Hamad AlMarzooqi, 50 team members completed Rashid Rover mission
Led by Dr. Hamad AlMarzooqi, 50 team members completed Rashid Rover mission
Hakuto-R Mission 1 lander being assembled at the IABG Space Test Centre in Germany. Photo: AFP
Hakuto-R Mission 1 lander being assembled at the IABG Space Test Centre in Germany. Photo: AFP

Versatile team

AlMarri told Khaleej Times the initial plans for the next lunar mission are taking shape. No technical details yet were shared but AlMarri confirmed the same team that created the Rashid Rover are all involved in the next mission.

“We have a versatile team,” AlMarri noted, adding: “We were not able to get the chance to test Rashid Rover on the Moon, so we have not decided yet on any technical improvements for the next rover."

No size and specifications of Rashid Rover 2 were also shared as these will be determined when MBRSC has finalised which space company it will be hitching a ride with to the Moon.

Dubai Media Office
Dubai Media Office

Next moonshot

What is certain is that the UAE has built its capacity and the team (at MBRSC) is ready to jump to the next level, AlMarri noted.

He earlier said: “Our colleagues have developed the first Emirati and Arab Rover; a notable achievement in and of itself and one we can all stand proudly behind.”

AlMarri added the engineers and personnel at MBRSC are emboldened by the “very strong vision and leadership of the UAE".

He said the UAE leaders have taught the country to achieve goals through bold ambition and dedication. “They encourage us to make the impossible possible. Challenges and difficulties are an inherent part of space missions, and particularly for lunar landings. By embarking on difficult missions, we learn, we improve and we progress.”

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