Upcoming UAE space missions you need to know as Sultan AlNeyadi returns to Earth

The future looks even brighter, with the country's investment in the space sector already surpassing the Dh22-billion mark


Sahim Salim

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Published: Mon 4 Sep 2023, 2:17 PM

Last updated: Mon 4 Sep 2023, 10:11 PM

Despite being a relatively new entrant to the space sector, the UAE has some stellar achievements to its name. Its national colours have been lighting up the orbit around Mars with its Hope probe for more than two years. A UAE-made rover orbited the Moon before the lander carrying it to the lunar surface crashed.

Two Emirati astronauts have lived on the International Space Station (ISS), with one — Sultan AlNeyadi — returning to Earth after a six-month mission Monday. A UAE citizen was part of an eight-month analog mission to test the effects of isolation on human psychology and physiology.

The future looks even brighter, with the country's investment in the space sector already surpassing the Dh22-billion mark. According to state news agency Wam, the UAE's space economy spans 10 sectors, “offering significant investment potential”. These include space mining, space stations, space companies, sustainability and recycling in space, settlements, space tourism, manufacturing and space academies.

“The UAE's space economy exhibits promising growth prospects, with 57 companies and space entities currently operating. Public and private sector support for the UAE space programme has exceeded $5.4 billion,” the report said.

Here are the key UAE space missions you need to know:

To Mars, Venus and beyond

This is hands down the most ambitious space mission undertaken by the UAE. Named after the man who does not believe in the word ‘impossible’ — His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai — the MBR Explorer will undertake a 5-billion-kilometre journey in the first-ever mission to explore and study seven asteroids of the main asteroid belt.

The 13-year mission includes six years for spacecraft development and seven for the journey through the main asteroid belt beyond Mars. The MBR Explorer’s journey includes gravity-assist manoeuvres around Venus, Earth and Mars to change the spacecraft’s velocity and support its flyby campaign. Its first asteroid encounter will take place in February 2030. Subsequent flybys will occur through to 2034, when the mission’s seventh asteroid encounter will involve a rendezvous and landing. The spacecraft will release a lander, which will beam science data up from the asteroid surface.

Next moonshot

The announcement of the UAE’s second lunar mission embodies everything the country stands for. Just a day after a lander carrying the UAE’s Rashid Rover to the Moon crashed, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid announced a second mission to the lunar service. The team at Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) has already started working on the new lunar rover called Rashid 2.

A top official told Khaleej Times the initial plans for the next lunar mission are taking shape, but did not specify a date for the launch or technical details of the rover. Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre director-general Salem AlMarri confirmed that the same team that created the Rashid Rover is involved in the new mission as well.

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

Space-ready astronauts

Launched in 2017, the UAE Astronaut Programme prepares Emiratis for manned missions to the International Space Station (ISS) and other destinations in space. In 2018, astronauts Hazza AlMansoori and Sultan AlNeyadi were selected from a pool of 4,000 applicants. Three years later, the second batch of the programme saw the selection of the first female Arab astronaut, Nora AlMatrooshi, along with Mohammad AlMulla.

Though no dates or mission details have been specified, both astronauts are space-ready. As part of Nasa’s 2021 astronaut candidate class training programme, both astronauts have undergone spacewalk training, in addition to a series of demanding exercises, including survival training.


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