DUBAI: The first Arab space mission, the UAE’s “Hope” probe, is expected to reach Mars’ orbit on Tuesday, making it the first of three spacecraft to arrive at the Red Planet this month.
The United Arab Emirates, China and the US all launched projects to Mars last July, taking advantage of a period when the Earth and Mars are nearest.
If succesful, the wealthy Gulf state will become the fifth nation to ever reach Mars — a venture timed to mark the 50th anniversary of the unification of the UAE — with the China mission due to become the sixth the following day.
Landmarks across the UAE have been lit up in red at night, government accounts emblazoned with the #ArabstoMars hashtag, and on the big day Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest tower, will be at the center of a celebratory show.
“Hope,” known as “Al-Amal” in Arabic, will orbit the planet for at least one Martian year, or 687 days, while the Tianwen-1 from China and the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover from the US will both land on Mars’ surface.
Only the US, India, the former Soviet Union and the European Space Agency have successfully reached the Red Planet in the past.
After blasting off from Japan last July, the Hope mission now faces its “most critical and complex” maneuver, according to Emirati officials, with a 50-50 chance of successfully entering a Mars orbit.
The spacecraft must slow significantly to be captured by Martian gravity, rotating and firing all six of its Delta-V thrusters for 27 minutes to reduce its cruising speed of 121,000 km per hour to about 18,000 kph.
The process, which will consume half of its fuel, will begin on Tuesday and it will take 11 minutes for a signal on its progress to reach ground control.
Omran Sharaf, the UAE mission’s project manager, said it was a “huge honor” to be the first of this year’s missions to reach Mars.
“It is humbling to be in such auspicious and skilled company as we all embark on our missions,” he said. “It was never a race for us. We approach space as a collaborative and inclusive effort.”