UAE's first interplanetary mission launches on 20 July – 'Hope' to be ninth active mission on Mars

The launch had been delayed on two occasions due to bad weather in Japan - n 15 July at 2.21 am IST and on Friday, 17 July at 2.13 am IST.

In a launch some may call historic, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has become the first Arab nation to launch an interplanetary mission – the Hope (Al Amal in Arabic) Mars orbiter mission.

In the wee hours of the morning, at 3.28 am IST (1:58 a.m. UAE time) on 20 July 2020, Hope Probe or Amal-1 was finally launched from the Tanegashima Space Center, Japan. It was launched in collaboration with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, using its H2A202 rocket that is apart of the H-IIA launch vehicle family.

Originally scheduled to blast off on 15 July at 2.21 am IST, a revised launch date was announced for Friday, 17 July at 2.13 am IST which was also postponed. The launch of the Mars orbiter was delayed on two separate occasions this month due to bad weather around the launchpad in Japan.

UAE Mars Hope mission. Image: MBRSC

An illustration of the Hope Mars orbiter. Image: MBRSC

With the launch of this orbiter, the UAE is striving to develop its scientific and technological capabilities while reducing its reliance on oil. It has also set a goal to build a human colony on Mars by 2117.

Hope is now set to reach Mars in February 2021, the year the UAE celebrates 50 years since its formation.

About the Hope Probe

The Mars orbiter was developed through a partnership between Mohamed bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC), Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado-Boulder, and Arizona State University (ASU).

The Emirates Mars Mission (EMM) has cost the nation $200 million, according to Sarah al-Amiri, the UAE's Minister for Advanced Sciences and the Mars mission’s deputy project manager. With the mission, UAE hopes to contribute to the study of the Martian atmosphere by mapping daily and seasonal changes of key gases that are thought to quickly escape to space.

Just over an hour after launch, the probe successfully separated from the launch vehicle and deployed its solar panels to power its systems. It also was able to successfully established radio communication with ground control on Earth.

According to a report by The Guardian and a live stream of the launch, cheers and claps followed liftoff, and one woman even offered a celebratory cry.

Amiri said that seeing the launch blasting off was “an indescribable feeling”. “This is the future of the UAE,” Amiri told Dubai TV from the launch site.

“It was great to see everything going according to schedule today. It looks like things are all on track. It’s a huge step in terms of space exploration to have a nation like the UAE taking that giant leap to send a spacecraft to Mars,” Astronomer Fred Watson told The Associated Press. “Being on route to a planet like Mars is an exceptional achievement.”

Hope to be the ninth active Mars mission

There are currently eight active missions on Mars that are either orbiting the red planet or rovers exploring the surface. The UAE has become the fifth country to send a mission to Mars after the US, Russia, ESA and India.

One Martian year is equal to almost two years on Earth i.e. Mars takes two Earth years to complete one orbit around the sun. It is only once every two years that the two planets come into perfect alignment with each other around the Sun. This alignment is the ideal time for an Earth-Mars journey since it saves on time, money and fuel. Interplanetary missions are no joke; in any and all conditions, are an expensive, time-consuming affair that requires a lot of planning.

While the orbiter has launched today, it will not be making its way directly to Mars. It will be put into a geosynchronous orbit where both the upper stage and the Hope probe will stay in this orbit till Mars and Earth align just right.

Two other Mars missions have also been planned in the upcoming days by the US and China. Japan has its own Martian moon mission planned in 2024. The Rosalind Franklin rover, a joint effort by the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Russian Space Agency (Roscosmos), has been postponed to 2022 after the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic affected operations.

The launch was met with a lot of enthusiasm and gusto on Twitter. Here are some of our favourite reactions:

With inputs from wires.

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