UAE Moon mission: Rashid Rover blasts off to space at 11.38am

The mission will take off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida


Nasreen Abdulla

Published: Sun 11 Dec 2022, 9:35 AM

Last updated: Sun 11 Dec 2022, 8:50 PM

On Sunday, 11.38am UAE time, the rover blasted off into space on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The UAE has scripted history with the with the successful launch of the Arab world's first lunar rover Rashid, which could potentially make the country only the fourth in the world to land on the Moon. Referred to as the world’s most compact rover, Rashid is now on a journey of up to 140 days, with a landing window on the surface of the Moon in April 2023.

Successfully lifted off on 11 December at 11.38am UAE Time from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Space Force, Florida, the Rashid Rover was integrated into iSpace M1 lander that was loaded atop the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

A little over an hour later, the first communication was established between the control center at MBRSC and the lander. There were scenes of jubilation as the team members applauded and congratulated each other as the Emirates Lunar Mission (ELM) took one step closer to success.

The launch

Minutes prior to the take-off, journalists huddled into the media room to watch the momentous occasion live. The Emirati scientists behind the project sat behind their work stations in the mission control. Accompanying them in the room were His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Sheikh Maktoum bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Deputy Ruler of Dubai.

“I am scared, excited and have a mix of feelings,” said Abdulla Al Shehhi, the rover mechanical engineering lead. “The launch today is one of the critical stages. The team here is ready to receive any signals. We have checked all the systems; we are very excited. It will be the first time the UAE lands on the moon, so it is definitely a very big step for us.”

The Space X’s Falcon 9 rocket took off as planned and within minutes, after the first burn, the rocket separated and touched down on landing zone 2, propelling the payload into the orbit.

An excited Sheikh Hamdan whipped out his mobile phone and took videos from the mission control. He later posted them on his social media with the caption ‘UAE, we have lift off’.

Later, Sheikh Mohammed tweeted “Today, the UAE launched the explorer Rashid, with the aim of landing on the surface of the moon. Reaching the moon means reaching an exceptional stage in the ambitious march of a country and a people whose aspirations have no ceiling. Rashid rover is part of an ambitious space program for the UAE.. that started with Mars.. passing through the moon.. to Venus.. our goal is to transfer knowledge, develop our capabilities, and add a scientific footprint in human history.”

Onward journey

Now that contact has been established with the lander, the next milestone in the journey is contact with the rover itself. “The first contact with the rover will be three days after the launch,” said Dr. Mohammed AlZaabi, Lunar Surface Operations Lead. “The entire team will be here to analyze the first signal and ensure the success of the mission. We will make sure that all the rover subsystems are functioning well.”

The spacecraft will take a low-energy route to the Moon rather than a direct approach, meaning the rover will land about five months after the launch. This has also significantly lowered the cost involved allowing the MBRSC to invest in more space-related projects

The journey to reach the moon will be a total of 385,000km. The lander will be injected into the transit orbit and will accelerate in a series of slingshot until the moon’s gravitational force holds it into a orbital path. Then the lander will reach the moon’s surface with the rover inside it. Once the necessary mechanical systems are deployed, the rover will start its journey on the moon’s unexplored surface.

According to the team at MBRSC, the landing of the rover on the moon will be the moment of truth as the Rashid rover is a very unique spacecraft that has several mobility systems. There are many moving parts like wheels, motors and gears. The mobility parts are very critical, and the team will be anxious to see exactly how they work.

“The biggest challenge is going to be getting to the moon,” said Ahmed Sharaf, electrical systems lead speaking during the post launch media briefing. “Once we reach there, we have one lunar day to conduct experiments. There are several challenges ahead of us in the form of the terrain and temperature on the surface of the moon.”

Unique mission

Earlier while speaking to media Salem Humaid Al Marri, Director General of MBRSC said that the mission was unique for the center. “So far we have only done projects that are orbiters,” he said. “Whether it was orbiting the earth or orbiting the Mars. This one is going to land on the surface on the moon and operate on it for a certain period of time. So it is a very unique project for us.”

The mission will go through seven major milestones: Launch and Early Orbit, Cruise Phase, Landing phase, Deployment, Commissioning and Drive Off phase and Nominal Surface Operations. The mission will conclude with the last two phases of Hibernation and the Last Decommissioning phase.

The primary landing site of the Rashid Rover is the Atlas Crater on the southeastern outer edge of Mare Frigoris. A ‘mare’ is a flat, dark plain on the lunar surface. The site is located on the Moon's far north side and has not been explored previously.

The rover will explore the characteristics of lunar soil, dust movement, surface plasma conditions, and the Moon's photoelectron sheath.


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