4 days to go: UAE's Hope Probe crew now at work 24/7

KT file photo
KT file photo

Dubai - Although Hope’s estimated time of entry into the Martian orbit is 7.42pm UAE time, the actual time of insertion may be 22 minutes ahead.

By Nandini Sircar

Published: Thu 4 Feb 2021, 10:25 PM

With four days to go before the UAE’s Hope Probe reaches the red planet — teams at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) are now working non-stop. They are divided into two teams that take turns on 12-hour shifts to monitor the orbiter.

Although Hope’s estimated time of entry into the Martian orbit is 7.42pm UAE time, the actual time of insertion may be 22 minutes ahead.

Asked on Thursday about the exact time history would be declared — software development engineer Hamad Alhazami smiled and said, “We will announce it on that day.”

Hope’s tryst with Mars will be culmination of the six-year effort of 200 Emirati engineers and researchers.

Further explaining the MoI phase, Alhazami pointed out: “The delay in the signals is described in two terms. First term is the one-way light time (OWLT) which is the first 11 minutes to send the command and the second term is the two-way light Time (TWLT) or round-trip time, which is sending the command and receiving the response. Since Mars is at a significant distance from us, this delay is expected and this scenario has been tested on our systems multiple times and we have absolute confidence that we can handle this situation.”

Throughout it seven-month journey, Hope Probe has overcome several complex operations, the team said.

Since the Mars Orbit Insertion (MOI) phase is critical, the orbiter will need to be commissioned again and the instruments on board tested before entering the transition to science phase.

Zakarayya Hussain Al Shamshi, deputy project manager of mission operation, said: “So far, our calibrations show that the spacecraft is moving in the right direction. The spacecraft will slow down from the cruising speed of 121,000kmph to something nearer to 18,000kmph to achieve MOI. The problem with MOI is that the calculation that we have put is best to our own knowledge.

“If there was live commanding, one could have gone ahead and fixed anomalies but the system is fully automated and there is a time lapse of 11 minutes on both sides.”

Different teams are at work constantly, he added. “For example, the navigation team makes sure that the direction of Hope is in the right orbit. Then they send data to the operation team who make sure what is the location of the spacecraft in deep space. Then the software team analyses all this data that is received. But we are hopeful that things will proceed as per plan on that day.”

Recalling the long journey leading up to the big day, Alhazami said: “It’s been a very intense and complicated process and through training and experience we have taken the best out of it and our strategic partners have been doing a great job simplifying things for us so that we can communicate smoothly with our probe.”


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