The first spacecraft of the United Arab Emirates has reached the planet Mars. It‘s the first of three robot scouts to arrive at the red planet in the next week and a half.
Over the past seven months, space probe al-Amal (Arabic for Hope) has traveled more than 480 million kilometres. In June 2020, the space probe was launched from the Japanese space base Tanegashima.
A trip to Mars is not easy, says astrobiologist Inge Loes ten Kate of Utrecht University. “A lot can go wrong along the way. Maneuvers must be carried out so as not to miss the planet. The last move to orbit Mars only succeeds in half the cases. Because of the large distance, all movements have to be pre-programmed, it is not possible to adjust because it takes 15 minutes for the signal to reach the satellite.”
After a seven-month journey, the hours were counted:
The Emirates satellite is going to map the atmosphere and weather around Mars for at least two years.
“ There are still things we don’t understand about the evolution of that atmosphere,” says Ten Kate. “That evolution remains interesting if we want to know what the planet used to look like and if you want to compare it to the early Earth.”
also questions about the evolution of planets in general. “Why is the earth like the earth, and not like Mars or Venus? I hope we will learn a little more about that with the Emirates mission.”
Inspiration for younger generations
In addition to a research mission, according to Ten Kate, this space journey is also primarily a technology mission for the United Arab Emirates. “They want to look beyond oil and inspire younger generations with science and technology. They also want to investigate whether it is possible to carry out manned flights in the future.”
In the development of Amal, the UAE chose to work with more experienced partners instead of doing it alone or buying the spacecraft elsewhere. UAE engineers and scientists worked with researchers from the University of Colorado, the University of California at Berkeley, and Arizona State University. “Striking about the composition is that it is not only a very international team, but also that 30% is made up of women. That‘s something we haven’t seen before in the other missions.”
Satellite and trolley
While Amal explores the atmosphere of the planet, China also has a satellite and a robber, a Mars cart, on its way. These are likely to arrive this week and gradually circle closer to the planet until in three months they are so close to the surface that the cart can try to land. If it succeeds, China would be the third country that lands on Mars successfully after the US and Russia.
About 40 percent of all Mars missions in recent years have failed, crashed, or burned down. It shows how complex space research is. “In the case of Mars, this has to do with the rarefied atmosphere, which makes it difficult to land research instruments,” explains Ten Kate.
Next week, the US robber, Perseverance, will also try to land. This rover is the first part of a ten-year mission of Americans and Europeans to bring rock from Mars to Earth.
This was the launch about seven months ago: