UAE's Rashid Rover to reach Moon today: Where to watch, timing, landing site; all you need to know

The world’s first Arab-built lunar rover will make the Emirates the fourth country after erstwhile Soviet Union, USA and China to land on the Moon if successful


Nandini Sircar

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Photo: AP
Photo: AP

Published: Tue 25 Apr 2023, 1:28 PM

Last updated: Tue 25 Apr 2023, 2:55 PM

The UAE is all set to make history as its attempts to put the Emirati lunar Rover, named Rashid to the Moon.

If all goes to plan, ispace’s Hakuto-R Mission 1 lander will start its descent towards the lunar surface at around 7.40pm UAE time (landing time 8.40pm).

On December 11, 2022, the UAE's Rashid Rover, the world’s first Arab-built lunar rover, lifted off from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

The Rashid Rover soared into space atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, housed inside a lunar lander designed by Japanese company ispace.

It marked the start of an epic 385,000km odyssey that will make the UAE the fourth country after the erstwhile Soviet Union, USA and China to land on the Moon if successful.

Here's what you must know ahead of tonight's rendezvous:

How can I watch the event live?

Space enthusiasts can tune into the landing event livestream coverage into the all the digital platforms of Khaleej Times at 8pm tonight.

What is Rashid Rover’s landing site and why?

Rashid Rover's landing site, which will be Atlas crater, located at 47.5°N, 44.4°E, on the southeastern outer edge of Mare Frigoris (“Sea of Cold”), chosen to maintain flexibility during operations. Mare Frigoris lies in the far lunar north and is a large lunar mare, or volcanic plain that was formed between 3.9 and 3.2 billion years ago during the Imbrian period of lunar history, when volcanic activity was at its peak.

The primary landing site was chosen along with multiple contingencies, which may be used depending on variables that occur during transit. The site meets the technical specifications of the lander technology demonstration mission and the scientific exploration objectives for the ELM mission.

It has also been the site of several successful lunar missions, including the Apollo 15 and 17 missions, which collected samples from nearby mountain ranges.

At what stage does the descent begin?

At around 7:40 PM on tonight, the lander carrying Rashid Rover will perform multiple orbital control manoeuvrers to reach a 100 km circular orbit around the Moon before initiating the landing sequence. At this point, it will then adjust its speed and altitude to make a “soft landing” around an hour later.

What are the manoeuvers that are performed during the landing sequence?

During the sequence, the lander will perform a braking burn, firing its main propulsion system to decelerate from orbit. Utilizing a series of pre-set commands, the lander will adjust its attitude and reduce velocity in order to make a soft landing on the confirmed lunar surface. The process will take approximately one hour.

For how long has the ELM team communicated with the rover?

The ELM team will complete close to a total 370 minutes of communication with the world’s most compact rover which weighs only 10kgs, before landing, along with 12 mission rehearsals for surface operations. The mission rehearsal is crucial for the engineering team to be prepared and ready with their programmes for execution post the lunar landing and also enable the different teams on the subsystems to sync their operational work.

What happens if the Rashid Rover is unable to land today?

Should conditions change, there are three alternative landing sites and depending on the site, the landing date may change. Alternative landing dates, depending on the operational status. The other dates are April 26, May 1, and May 3, 2023.

What are the challenges for the lunar rover?

Space experts explain the moon's gravity is about one-sixth of Earth's gravity, which makes it difficult to land and control the spacecraft's movements. The lack of atmosphere on the moon makes it difficult to slow down the spacecraft during descent. The surface of the moon is covered in a layer of fine dust called regolith, which can be up to several meters deep in some areas. This dust can be difficult to navigate and can pose a risk to the spacecraft's engines and landing gear.

There is also the challenge of communicating with the spacecraft during the landing process. The signal takes about 1.28 seconds to travel from the moon to Earth, which means that there is a delay in communication. This delay can make it difficult to make real-time adjustments to the spacecraft's trajectory during the landing process. Therefore, it’s a complex and difficult task that requires careful planning, precise engineering, and skilled execution.

What is the success rate of lunar mission?

Only half of the lunar missions involving landing on moon surface have succeeded in the last six decades, according to NASA. Lunar landing is a very challenging task due to several reasons, which includes gravity, lack of atmosphere, regolith and communication with only 50 per cent chance of the Rashid rover successfully touching base with the Moon.

Which are the lunar missions that failed in the recent past?

Chandrayaan-2, India’s mission in July 2019 - The mission's lander, Vikram, experienced a hard landing on the lunar surface and was unable to communicate with the ground. The orbiter, however, is still operational and conducting scientific observations.

Beresheet, Israel’s mission in April 2019 - The spacecraft crashed into the Moon's surface during its landing attempt due to a technical glitch in its main engine.

Chang'e-5 T1, China’s mission in October 2014 - The mission was a test flight for China's Chang'e-5 lunar sample return mission, but the spacecraft was apparently unable to return to Earth due to a malfunction in its propulsion system.

It’s worth noting that while these missions were not entirely successful, but they still contributed valuable data and knowledge to the understanding of the Moon and its environment.

What is the science mission of the Lunar rover?

If things go according to script, after the Nominal Surface Operations phase, which is the mission itself, for 10-12 days, the Rashid rover will conduct continuous surface research and image capture. The Rashid Rover will explore the characteristics of lunar soil, the petrography and geology of the Moon, dust movement, surface plasma conditions, and the Moon's photoelectron sheath.


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