tech2 News StaffJul 20, 2020 12:21:29 IST
Editor's Note: This article has been re-published on 20 July 2020 as the UAE's Hope Probe was launched successfully.
Editor's Note: The launch of UAE's Hope Mars mission has been delayed due to poor weather conditions at the launch site in Tanegashima Space Center, Japan. Originally scheduled to blast off on 15 July at 2.21 am IST, the revised launch attempt is now targeting Friday, 17 July at 2.13 am IST.
The United Arab Emirates is gearing up to launch its first-ever interplanetary mission this week – a Mars orbiter called 'Hope'. The primary goal of the mission is to study the Martian atmosphere, with the hope of preventing the Earth's atmosphere from becoming as uninhabitable as present-day Mars'.
With the Hope mission, UAE also hopes to inspire other nations in the region to pursue space, on top of advancing our scientific understanding of the Red Planet.
In an interview with Space.com, Hessa Al Matroushi, science data and analysis lead for the mission at the UAE's Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Center said "I think one of the messages of this mission is hope, which is the name of the probe itself. If a small nation like us (UAE) is able to achieve this kind of mission and get ourselves to Mars, then everything is possible."
The Hope probe 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 Hope mission is a Mars orbiter spacecraft, which will study the thin atmosphere of Mars and help explain how the planet loses hydrogen and oxygen from its atmosphere into space. The mission is officially named the Emirates Mars Mission (EMM) and the orbiter has been named Hope or 'Al Amal'.
If successful, the Hope orbiter will join six others in studying Mars, from the US, Europe and India.
The Hope orbiter
The Hope probe has a mission life of one Martian year, which is almost two Earth years. The spacecraft weighs around 1.35 kgs, is 3 metres tall and around 8 metres wide. It also has 600-watt solar panels that will charge its battery.
The three main objectives of the Hope probe are:
- to understand the climate dynamics and global weather map of Mars by studying the lower atmosphere of Mars.
- to explain how the weather of Mars affects the escape of hydrogen and oxygen, by correlating conditions in the lower and upper atmosphere
- to understand the presence and variability of hydrogen and oxygen in the upper atmosphere, and why Mars is losing these gases to space
Another unofficial objective of the Hope probe is to understand how Mars evolved into the Red desert we know. It is a known fact that the Red Planet was once habitable, from signatures of flowing water and organic material that point to a past that could have supported living things. An understanding of Mars' past could help scientists understand the future of Earth.
Instruments on the Hope probe
The Hope Probe has three scientific instruments aboard to collect data for its mission.
1. The Emirates eXploration Imager (EXI): a multi-wavelength imager capable of capturing 12-megapixel visible-light and ultraviolet imagery of the Martian atmosphere. With EXI, mission scientists are hoping to measure the distribution of water-ice and ozone in the lower atmosphere in 3 different ultraviolet wavelengths of light. EXI can also capture images in 3 visible light wavelengths (RGB).
2. The Emirates Mars Infrared Spectrometer (EMIRS): designed to study the lower Mars atmosphere in infrared light, to analyse dust, ice clouds and water vapor. EMIRS also measures the temperature of the surface and the lower atmosphere of Mars. The instrument is designed to study the distribution of dust, ice clouds, water vapour, along with its temperature profile of the Red Planet's lower atmosphere.
3. The Emirates Mars Ultraviolet Spectrometer (EMUS): designed to study the upper atmosphere of Mars in far-ultraviolet wavelengths. This, scientists are hoping, can determine the distribution and fluctuation of carbon monoxide and oxygen in the upper layers of the Mars atmosphere. EMUS can also reportedly measure the distribution of oxygen and hydrogen in the Martian exosphere – the outermost region of the planet's atmosphere. This is also the region where the escape of gases into space is thought to begin.
Launch of UAE's Hope Mission
The United Arab Emirates' orbiter is scheduled to launch on 15 July 12.51 am UAE time (2.21 am IST).
The launch window begins on 14 July and stays open till 12 August 2020. The launch is planned from the Tanegashima Space Centre in Japan, aboard the H2A202 rocket – part of the H-IIA launch vehicle family developed by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.
It will take around 200 days to cover the 49,35,00,000-km-distance to reach Mars, with a landing expected in 2021. According to NASA Space Science Data Coordinated Archive, the Hope probe will enter an elliptical orbit around Mars that is roughly 22,000 x 44,000 km (nearest x farthest) in altitude, taking approximately 55 hours to complete a single orbit after it has breached the gravity of Mars.
For an interplanetary mission, the idea for the mission came not from scientists but from the UAE government, as per a report in Nature, chasing a non-negotiable deadline of 2 December 2021 – the country’s 50th anniversary. As per plans, Hope is designed to carry out two years of science operations starting May 2021, with a possibility of a two-year extension to do more science till 2025.
During and after launch: What to expect
After the rocket carrying the Hope orbiter lifts off, the final stage of the rocket will park itself in a high orbit around Earth. Using thrusters and maneuvers, the rocket will be prepared for a launch towards Mars as it comes into perfect alignment with Earth.
Once this alignment is achieved, the rocket's thrusters will reignite, propelling itself and the Hope orbiter inside it, on a trajectory towards Mars. Once the right direction and velocity (11km/s) are achieved, the rocket's final stage is expected to release the Hope orbiter to continue on the rest of its journey to Mars.
The orbiter will power up after separating from the rocket, and its solar panels will be deployed, kick-starting the spacecraft's charging mechanism to power its flight and communication with the mission control team. The Hope probe's communication link will be transmitting to Earth via the NASA Deep Space Network ground station in Madrid. According to the Emirates Mars Mission website, "once the signal is received on the ground station, the EMM Operations Team will begin their checks on the spacecraft."
The team will also ensure the Hope spacecraft is moving along in the right trajectory and its propulsion system is working in tandem.
Once Hope reaches Mars' orbit, it will be slowed down using its own thrusters, allowing it to be captured by the Red Planet's gravity. This critical step requires precision, so the orbiter isn't lost to space, and the mission doesn't fail. The EMM team will oversee a series of fuel-burning thrusts to slow the orbiter down from a velocity of 1,21,000 km/h to approximately 18,000 km/h. This phase will continue for around half an hour – designed to be completed automatically, since there is a signal delay of 13-26 minutes between the spacecraft and the mission control team depending on the spacecraft's relative position to Earth.
Communication with the probe will "go dark" after it inserts itself into a "capture orbit" around Mars, since it will be orbiting the far side of Mars. Once it comes out from behind Mars and faces Earth, the spacecraft will re-establish contact with the ground team.
If all goes well, the orbiter will spend the next six weeks preparing for its science objectives. It will also click its first image of Mars in this time, and relay it to Earth.
The spacecraft will make its move from the capture orbit to a science orbit, a process that will take around 55 hours to complete, and bring the orbiter to a 20,000 km x 43,000 km (nearest x farthest altitude). This science orbit, the space agency has said, will allow Hope to "complete the first-ever planet-wide, 24x7 picture of Mars’ atmospheric dynamics and weather."
The first images and science data from the Hope mission is due sometime around August 2021.
NASA's Perseverance Mars rover and China's Tianwen-1 mission – a three-in-one combo of an orbiter, lander and rover – are also slated to accompany UAE's Hope probe on its journey, with their launches scheduled for later in July 2020. The Perseverance Mars rover is expected to launch on 30 July, while the Tianwen-1 mission is slated for a 23 July launch.
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