Saturday 26 September 2020 - 3:03:23 am

Road to Red Planet: UAE’s contribution to humanity

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By Hessa Al Hammadi

ABU DHABI, 19th July, 2020 (WAM) -- Mars, our closest, yet mysterious planetary neighbour, will welcome soon new unmanned visitors from planet Earth, among them is the first mission to the red planet by any West Asian, Arab or Muslim majority country: Probe Hope- the UAE's Mars mission 'Al-Amal'.

The probe will fly around Mars in a way that's never been done before, and herein lies our contribution to humanity at large. If all goes well as planned with these three projects, the year 2021 could pave the way for extraordinary discoveries to unravel more mysteries about the Roman god of war and agriculture!

 

Hope Probe

The UAE is launching the Arab world’s first-ever interplanetary orbiter spacecraft. This comes after a successful launch in 2018 of KhalifaSat, an earth-observation satellite. The Hope Probe will launch from Japan, and, if all goes well, should reach Mars by February 2021, the year that marks the UAE’s milestone Golden Jubilee.

The objectives of the Emirates Mars Mission, EMM, are set forth to focus on the weather dynamics of Mars, as well as studying the Martian atmosphere in a way that helps explain why the Red planet is losing its atmosphere by tracking the escape of hydrogen and oxygen. The probe’s analysis data will help build a comprehensive image that should result in a better understanding of Mars’ transition from a once wet and flourishing world to the dry and cold planet now. The EMM’s goals go in unison with a much bigger and ambitious purpose: building a human settlement in the red planet within the next 100 years, a milestone that will go down in the annals of history! The Hope Probe will remain in orbit for a whole Martian year, equivalent to 687 days on Earth and will take 55 hours per loop at an average speed of 121,000 kph.

The probe will be controlled from Dubai, and will be launched with the first Arabic Countdown ever!

 

Tianwen-1

Another country vying for the treasures our vast universe abounds in is China, which is entering the Martian race with its anticipative trifecta spacecraft. The Tianwen-1 is an orbiter, rover, and lander; a first of its kind.

The spacecraft is due to launch somewhere around July 23 but the date is not yet confirmed, if successful, will be a dramatic progress for China’s space programmme.

China has previously successfully landed several lunar landers, but landing on Mars is far trickier due to the planet’s atmosphere. Mars atmosphere will require some sort of heat protection for the craft, and the air would be too thin to rely on parachutes alone for a safe and slow descent.

Landing is not the main objective for the mission, though. Tianwen-1 will explore and gather as much data as possible about the red planet. The orbiter will study the magnetic field and atmosphere of the planet, as well as mapping the surface using a high-resolution camera. While the rover, equipped with a ground-penetrating radar, GPR, will focus on mapping the subsurface of Mars and investigate the presence of ice on the planet.

 

Perseverance Rover

The US, the only nation successful of landing a spacecraft on Mars yet, will land a new rover to accompany its already two operating siblings there, InSight and Curiousity rovers.

Perseverance will launch on July 30 and will land on the Jezero Crater, an area with high potential of finding signs of past microbial life. Breakthrough, if discovered, will mark a historic finding and a solid evidence of Mars being once thriving with at least simple molecules of microbial life. A buoyant proof once and for all that life can form on planets other than Earth.

The rover will be collecting samples of the red planet’s rocks to bring back to Earth, it will also study Mars’ past climate and geological conditions embedded in its rocks. Rocks in the Jezero Crater, which was once a probable oasis in the past, could have preserved the ancient river’s organic molecules. Studying those rocks will give us a deeper reflection of the planet’s former self.

NASA’s Perseverance will also deliver to Mars a groundbreaking new project, Ingenuity, the first-of-its-kind Mars helicopter. Ingenuity will be the first aircraft to attempt a controlled flight on a different planet. The task is not as easy as it sounds, as Mars has a cruel frigid climate and a very thin low-density atmosphere.

 

Beating the Clock!

There is a very limited time span for sending spacecrafts to Mars in the most efficient, cost-effective way possible. In order to use the minimum energy and fuel consumption required to reach Mars, the two planets need to be aligned on the same side of the sun. The trip would usually take around 7 months to reach its destination.

If these trips are successful in reaching the red planet and yielding fruits, we will be looking forward to tremendous discoveries that’ll give us a better understanding of our neighbor, evident that it was once quite similar to Earth.

Space exploration is a necessary step to understand the vast universe that holds as many secrets as it holds stars, as well as giving us a greater understanding of our own planet’s past and future. Mars will not only give us a better chance at knowing whether life existed elsewhere in the universe, a fundamental humankind question that we are yet to find an answer to, but would also be an obvious and perfect destinations for future human exploration and perhaps settlements outside of Earth.

 

WAM/Hazem Hussein