'MBR Explorer': Sheikh Mohammed announces new space mission to explore asteroid belt in 2034

The spacecraft will travel 10 times more than the Hope Probe — the country's mission to Mars that went into orbit around the Red Planet in 2021

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Photos: Sheikh Mohammmed/Twitter
Photos: Sheikh Mohammmed/Twitter

Nandini Sircar

Published: Mon 29 May 2023, 1:19 PM

Last updated: Tue 30 May 2023, 12:15 AM

An ambitious project announced on Monday will see a UAE spacecraft travel for seven years, on a multiple-asteroid tour with a landing mission to the main belt asteroids between Mars and Jupiter.

Named after His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, the MBR Explorer will land on an asteroid in 2034.

Sheikh Mohammed emphasised that this ambitious scientific endeavour will not only contribute to significant advancements in space science and technology but also pave the way for the creation of specialised Emirati companies in this field.

Sheikh Mohammed said: “The UAE has launched a new 13-year space project that features six years of spacecraft development and seven years of exploration. The UAE spacecraft ‘MBR Explorer’ will undertake a 5-billion kilometre journey passing through Mars to explore seven asteroids in the main asteroid belt and ultimately landing on the last asteroid in 2034.”

He added: “The Emirates Mission to the Asteroid Belt is a massive scientific project that will result in the establishment of private Emirati companies specialised in space science and technology, the development of a deep space mission control centre, and the training of Emirati talent.

The Emirates Mission to the Asteroid Belt will cover 10 times the distance covered by the ‘Hope Probe’. Emirati youth believe in the motto that “The Impossible is Possible”.

Meanwhile, UAE Space Agency also unveiled that a three-week launch window will be available to perform its mission with seven-loop orbital journey to Justitia. The spacecraft would approach these asteroids at a speed of up to 33,000kmph and maintain a distance of up to 150km from their surfaces.

By utilising four scientific instruments, the investigation into the origin of 269 Justitia aims to shed light on several intriguing questions. These inquiries include determining whether it originated from the Kuiper Belt and unravelling the reasons behind its distinct ultra-red characteristics. Ultimately, this comprehensive study intends to provide valuable insights into the origins of 269 Justitia.

Additionally, the expedition aims to give new insights into the solar system like understanding the source of Earth’s water, studying the origin and evolution of water-rich bodies and evaluating the potential of asteroids as a resource for future missions.

Sarah Al Amiri, Minister of State for Public Education and Future Technology and Chairwoman of the UAE Space Agency, said: “The EMA is a key component of the UAE National Space Strategy and has one over-riding goal – the creation of viable and rewarding employment opportunities for young Emiratis for generations to come. Emirati learning, knowledge transfer and innovation lie at the heart of the EMA. The mission will contribute to empowering local private sector companies and UAE start-ups.”

The MBR Explorer’s space odyssey includes gravity-assist manoeuvres around Venus, Earth and Mars to change the spacecraft’s velocity and support its flyby campaign, with its first asteroid encounter taking 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.

Salem Butti Salem Al Qubaisi, UAE Space Agency's Director-General, said: “In addition to extensive research, development and finance, long-term space missions require extensive cooperation with local and global institutions and the private sector. We are keen to expand strategic partnerships with the local private sector to ensure the success and accelerated growth of our future space projects.”


Instruments on onboard

The MBR Explorer’s four science instruments include a high-resolution camera, a thermal infrared camera, a mid-wavelength spectrometer and an infrared spectrometer. Together, these instruments will support observations that will measure the surface composition, geology and interior density and structure of asteroids across five of the main belts ‘families’, helping to better understand the origins and evolution of water-rich asteroids and also to assess the resource potential of asteroids and prepare the way for future asteroid resource utilisation.

The mission’s academic partners include Khalifa University; the New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD); the National Centre for Space Science and Technology at UAEU; University of Colorado Boulder; the Italian Space Agency Agenzia Spaziale Italiana (ASI); Arizona State University & Northern Arizona University and Malin Space Science Systems. Contributors to the mission include Emirati national companies and institutions such as TII and Yahsat, as well as local and global private space sector partners.

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