A spacecraft from the United Arab Emirates orbited Marson on Tuesday in a triumph for the Arab world’s first interplanetary mission.
Mission inspectors at the UAE’s space center in Dubai announced that the unmanned ship, called Amal, Arabic for Hope, reached the end of its nearly seven-month journey of 300 million miles and began circling the red planet, where it will gather detailed information about Mars’ atmosphere.
The orbiter fired its main engines for 27 minutes in an intricate maneuver with high efforts that slowed the ship enough to be captured by Mars’ gravity.
After the engine failure, it took a nail-biting 15 minutes or so before the signal confirming success reached Earth. Ground checks rose to their feet and broke into applause. The tensions were high: Mars has over the years been the cemetery for a variety of missions from different countries.
Two more unmanned spacecraft from the United States and China will follow closely and will arrive on Mars in the next few days. All three missions were launched in July to take advantage of the close alignment of Earth and Mars.
Amal’s arrival places the United Arab Emirates in a league with only five space organizations in history that has benefited from a working Mars mission. As the country’s first venture beyond the Earth’s orbit, aviation is an intense pride for the oil – rich nation as it seeks a future in space.
An incessant Mohammed bin Zayed, the United Arab Emirates ‘daily ruler, was present at the mission check and said: “Congratulations to the United Arab Emirates’ leadership and people for the indescribable joy of arriving on Mars.”
About 60% of all Mars missions have ended in failure, crashed, burned or otherwise fallen short in evidence of the complexity of interplanetary travel and the difficulty of making a descent through Mars’ thin atmosphere.
A combined orbit and lander from China is scheduled to reach the planet on Wednesday. It will orbit Mars until the rover separates and tries to land on the surface in May to look for signs of ancient life.
A rover from the USA called Perseverance will join the audience next week, with a view to a landing on 18 February. It will be the first stage in a decades-long US-European project to bring Mars rocks back to Earth to be examined for evidence that the planet once contained microscopic life.
If it starts this, China will only be the second country to succeed in landing on Mars. The United States has done so eight times, the first almost 45 years ago. A NASA rover and lander are still working on the surface.
For the UAE, it was the country’s first venture beyond Earth’s orbit, making flying an intense national pride.
For several days, landmarks across the United Arab Emirates, including the Burj Khalifa, the tallest tower on earth, glowed red to mark Amal’s expected arrival. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of the country, and Amal is drawing even more attention.
The celestial weather station was aiming for an exceptionally high orbit of 13,670 miles at 27,340 miles (22,000 kilometers by 44,000 kilometers). It was set to join six spacecraft already operating around Mars: three US, two European and one Indian.
Amal had to perform a series of high stakes turns and engine launches to maneuver in orbit and achieve what has escaped so many in the past.
“Everything goes wrong and you lose the spacecraft,” said Sarah al-Amiri, Prime Minister of Advanced Technology and chair of the UAE’s space agency.
The success represents a huge boost to the UAE’s space ambitions. The country’s first astronaut rocketed into space in 2019 and made a trip to the International Space Station with the Russians. It is 58 years since the Soviet Union and the United States launched astronauts.
In the development of Amal, the United Arab Emirates chose to collaborate with more experienced partners instead of going alone or buying the spacecraft elsewhere. Its engineers and researchers worked with researchers at the University of Colorado, the University of California at Berkeley and Arizona State University.
The spacecraft was assembled in Boulder, Colorado, before being sent to Japan for launch in July last year.
Amal in car size cost $ 200 million to build and launch; it excludes operating costs on Mars. The Chinese and American expeditions are much more complicated – and expensive – because of their rovers. NASA’s endurance mission totals $ 3 billion.
The United Arab Emirates, a federation of seven sheikhdoms, is looking for Amal to ignite the imagination of the country’s researchers and its young people and help prepare for a future when oil runs out.
“This mission was never about just reaching Mars,” said Omran Sharaf, Amal’s project manager. “Mars is just a means to an end.”