'Last scary moment' over as UAE's Hope Probe to Mars transitions to science orbit

Dubai - Emirati aircraft sends back stunning image of the Red Planet.

By Nandini Sircar

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A monochromatic image of the Cerberus Fossae with a spatial scale of approximately 180 meters/pixel.
A monochromatic image of the Cerberus Fossae with a spatial scale of approximately 180 meters/pixel.

Published: Mon 29 Mar 2021, 2:43 PM

Last updated: Tue 30 Mar 2021, 2:54 PM

The UAE's Hope Probe has started transition from its capture orbit to its science orbit after a critical burn of its thrusters.

This was announced by Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) on Monday, after the successful completion of a 510-second (8.36 minutes) burn of Al Amal’s propulsion systems.

The science phase will commence on April 14 following a number of calibrations.

Omran Sharaf, Emirates Mars Mission (EMM) project director, said: “Although the Hope Probe is a huge achievement and a source of great national pride, its core objective, defined right from Day One of this mission, is to build the first complete picture of Mars’ atmospheric dynamics.”

He added: “The TSM (Transition to Science Manoeuvre) was critically important, and I can say, it was the last truly scary moment for the mission because there was a very real risk of losing the spacecraft during this last burn. We’re now assessing the results of that burn, but we are confident that we will not need a further large correction manoeuvre.”

In early March, the EMM had completed its commissioning and testing phase. Sharaf had then mentioned that the transition to science manoeuvres will be ahead of schedule.

In an interview he had said: “The plan was to transition into the science orbit in May, but it might happen sooner than that, and hopefully in April. Things are going well with the mission.”

This transition saw the Hope Probe move from its 1,063 by 42,461 capture orbit to a 20,000 by 43,000 science orbit.

Therefore, as the spacecraft is now entering its final orbit of Mars, it’s also getting ready for its two-year science data gathering phase which has been the core aim of the mission.

This manoeuvre was the last scheduled ‘big burn’ in the spacecraft’s journey from its launch on July 20, 2020.

The science phase, to commence with a number of test runs, aims to establish a sound baseline for an accurate and efficient management of the measurements from the spacecraft’s three on board instruments namely -- The Emirates eXploration Imager, The Emirates Mars InfraRed Spectrometer and The Emirates Mars Ultraviolet Spectrometer.

After this, the mission’s two-year science data collection will formally commence on May 23, 2021. The data will be made available globally in October.

Hessa Al Matroushi, EMM science lead, pointed out: “Once we have established our stable science orbit and deployed our instruments, we can start building datasets and testing our systems with the live data. This is the data we will be processing, formatting and sharing with the world’s science and academic communities openly through our website.”

The meticulous process of science data gathering consists of making repeated ‘passes’ around Mars and mapping each set of measurements to build a dynamic picture of the movement of dust, ice and water vapour throughout the planet’s atmospheric layers.

Additionally, it will measure hydrogen, oxygen, carbon monoxide and ozone levels and will capture variations in temperature.

Meanwhile, the unique elliptical 25-degree orbit of the Hope Probe enables a planet-wide, high resolution sample to be taken each 225 hours (9.5 days).

Al Matroushi said: “If you imagine spinning a basketball on your finger and then wrapping it with wool as it spins, you get an idea of how Hope covers the whole planet over consecutive orbits. While we’re doing that, we’re constantly measuring with two spectrometers and an imager. These three data streams combine to give us a holistic, powerful and unique picture of Mars’ atmosphere that we hope will answer many, many questions we have about the planet and our theories regarding its atmospheric loss.”

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