UAE Mars mission project manager heralds age of ‘space collaboration’

Omran Sharaf, project manager of the Emirates Mars Mission. (Supplied)
Omran Sharaf, project manager of the Emirates Mars Mission. (Supplied)
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Updated 21 February 2021

UAE Mars mission project manager heralds age of ‘space collaboration’

Omran Sharaf, project manager of the Emirates Mars Mission. (Supplied)
  • First interplanetary mission by an Arab nation will share data with global scientific community

DUBAI: After the last of three spacecrafts made contact with Mars this month, the world’s newest space-faring nation is heralding a new age of “space collaboration.”

The United Arab Emirates made history Feb. 9 when it became the fifth country to successfully enter the Martian orbit with its Hope probe, the first interplanetary mission by an Arab nation. 

Scenes on the ground in Dubai were jubilant when Omran Sharaf, project manager of the Emirates Mars Mission, announced the orbit insertion was successful. Pictures of the team’s engineers were then projected onto the side of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest tower.

It was an incredible feat considering the UAE Space Agency is less than seven years old and the average age of an Emirates Mars Mission team member is just 27.

It comes at a time of heightened interest in the Red Planet. China’s Tianwen-1 spacecraft celebrated its own successful orbit insertion less than 24 hours later, on Feb. 10. NASA's Perseverance Rover landed on the surface of Mars on Thursday.

A week after the UAE’s successful orbit insertion, Sharaf told Arab News that he is “still sleep-deprived.” His team worked through the weekend to release its first image of the Red Planet five days after the Hope probe started its orbit. 




Sharaf's team worked through the weekend to release its first image of the Red Planet five days after the Hope probe started its orbit. (Supplied)

Some of Mars’s most defining features are visible in the picture, including the planet’s north pole and Olympus Mons, the largest volcano in the solar system.

“What you see in this image is what you would see with your naked eye, if you were at a height of 25,000 kilometers above the Martian surface,” Sharaf said.

But the best images of the planet are yet to come, he said, as this particular photo was taken with the probe’s uncalibrated camera.

Sharaf said the team received the image 28 hours after orbit insertion and admitted he felt “relieved” when he saw it.

“Looking at it, as a person, it made me really appreciate the science that is going to be coming out of this mission,” he said. “Having an image helps you know that you actually did it.”

BIOGRAPHY

Omran Sharaf Emirates Mars Mission (Hope Probe) Project Director Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre Omran is Project Director of the Emirates Mars Mission (EMM) at the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC). He and his team are responsible for developing, launching, and operating the Hope Probe, the spacecraft of the mission.

Omran has worked on the project from its initial conception and developed all the necessary capabilities and partnerships at MBRSC, effectively transitioning the organization from one that focused on earth observation satellites to one that develops interplanetary exploration missions.

An experienced electronics and systems engineer, who trained in the US and Korea, Omran was responsible for developing and implementing the Command Data Handling Subsystem (CDHS) for the DubaiSat-1 high resolution LEO imaging satellite. He also headed the development of the CDH subsystem and payload electronics subsystem for DubaiSat-2, along with being a systems engineer of that project.

Prior to EMM, Omran was Director of the Programs Management Department at MBRSC, which was responsible for defining new strategic programs, the project management office and the product and mission assurance functionalities of the center.

Omran earned his bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Virginia, USA, in 2005, and his Master's in Science and Technology Policy from the Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), South Korea, in 2013.

Sharaf said more pictures will be released soon as the first collection of data collected from the mission will be released to the global scientific community in September.

And this is the sentiment he is most adamant about: The UAE will provide open access to all.

Sharaf said the hallmarks of the mission are “transparency” and “peace,” as well as looking to a post-oil future. 

“Maybe superpowers around the world look at it differently than us,” he said. “For us, there are very clear priorities. Our economy is a priority. The reason why we are going into space is to build capacity, capability and a set of skills among the Emirati youth to serve our future.

“And there are also certain national challenges linked to the environment that really require advanced technologies to be developed and customized for the UAE. To do that we need to have people with a certain set of skills and we need to have an industry with very high standards.”

Collaboration is also important. The UAE worked with three US universities on the mission, which launched from the Japanese island of Tanegashima on a rocket made by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. 

“We do not look at it as a space race,” Sharaf said. “We do not even use that terminology within our space community. 

“The fundamental element to this was transparency. And this is how you actually ensure that other nations and people understand the main goals behind our mission. Basically, the UAE space program is a civilian program. It is a peaceful one. And this is what we want to emphasize.”

During the mission’s final approach to Mars, Sharaf’s anxious face was beamed around the world on a live stream from mission control at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Center in Dubai. 

The UAE faced a 50 percent chance of successful orbit insertion and Sharaf did not sleep the night before.

“I do not think I was worried, because I was stressed,” he said. “Did I accept the fact that this might not work? I did at that point. And so whatever the consequences were, for me, it was fine.”

At just after 8 p.m., Sharaf calmly announced the successful insertion to “the people of the United Arab Emirates, to Arab and Muslim nations” and then repeated the phrase “All thanks to Allah” three times.

The Hope team is now calibrating the probe’s instruments and preparing for its transition from a capture orbit into a science orbit in six weeks’ time. The science orbit is elliptical, ranging between 20,000 to 43,000 kilometers, with one complete orbit taking 55 hours. This will allow the probe to complete the first planet-wide picture of Mars’ atmospheric dynamics and weather during both day and night.

During the science orbit, the probe will study how energy moves through the Martian atmosphere.

“This data will lead to new information that will serve humanity and will help us better understand what happened to the Red Planet,” Sharaf said. “It will help us better understand our own climate and the changes that are happening around us.”


US, at UN, accuses Russia of blocking ‘accountability’ on Syria chemical weapons

US, at UN, accuses Russia of blocking ‘accountability’ on Syria chemical weapons
Updated 8 min 12 sec ago

US, at UN, accuses Russia of blocking ‘accountability’ on Syria chemical weapons

US, at UN, accuses Russia of blocking ‘accountability’ on Syria chemical weapons

UNITED NATIONS: The new US envoy to the United Nations on Thursday accused Russia of seeking to stymie efforts to hold the government of Syrian leader Bashar Al-Assad accountable for its use of chemical weapons during its long civil war.
"We all know the Assad regime has repeatedly used chemical weapons. So why hasn't the Syrian government been held accountable?" the ambassador, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, told a Security Council meeting via videoconference.
"The answer is sadly simple: the Assad regime has tried to avoid accountability by obstructing independent investigations... and the regime's allies, in particular Russia, have also sought to block all efforts to pursue accountability."


Nine Turkish soldiers killed in military helicopter crash: Defence ministry

Nine Turkish soldiers killed in military helicopter crash: Defence ministry
Updated 58 min 5 sec ago

Nine Turkish soldiers killed in military helicopter crash: Defence ministry

Nine Turkish soldiers killed in military helicopter crash: Defence ministry

ISTANBUL: A military helicopter crashed in southeast Turkey, killing nine soldiers and injuring four, the defence ministry said on Thursday.
The helicopter took off from the Bingol province at 1055 GMT, it said in a statement, adding that search operations were launched after it lost contact at 1125 GMT.
It described the crash as accidental, but did not elaborate. The four injured soldiers were being taken to hospital, the ministry added.


Sudan to start vaccine rollout next week after getting COVAX doses

Sudan to start vaccine rollout next week after getting COVAX doses
Updated 04 March 2021

Sudan to start vaccine rollout next week after getting COVAX doses

Sudan to start vaccine rollout next week after getting COVAX doses
  • Sudan received 828,000 doses of the AstraZeneca-produced vaccine on Wednesday at Khartoum airport
  • The delivery follows that of 4.5 metric tons of syringes and disposal boxes through COVAX in late February

KHARTOUM: Sudan will begin vaccinating health care workers followed by people aged 45 or older with chronic conditions for free next week after becoming the first country in the Middle East and North Africa to benefit from COVAX facility vaccines.
Sudan received 828,000 doses of the AstraZeneca-produced vaccine on Wednesday at Khartoum airport, a health ministry official said. The delivery follows that of 4.5 metric tons of syringes and disposal boxes through COVAX in late February.
Sudan says it expects to receive the remainder of a total 3.4 million doses through COVAX, a vaccine-sharing program co-led by the World Health Organization, in the second quarter of this year.
It aims to cover 20% of its population of 44 million through COVAX by September, health ministry officials said.
“This is an essential part of our battle against coronavirus,” Health Minister Omer Elnageib said.
Sudan was also in initial discussions to produce the vaccine domestically, Elnageib added.
Sudan is a young country, with only about 4% of its population over the age of 65, according to UN statistics.
It has been suffering from a long economic crisis that has left it unable to import some basic medicines and its health care system suffered from decades of neglect and sanctions under former President Omar Al-Bashir before his overthrow in 2019.
As of March 1, Sudan had officially recorded 28,545 cases of coronavirus since the start of the pandemic one year ago, including 1,895 deaths.


Iran accepts ‘technical meetings’ with IAEA from early April

Iran accepts ‘technical meetings’ with IAEA from early April
Updated 04 March 2021

Iran accepts ‘technical meetings’ with IAEA from early April

Iran accepts ‘technical meetings’ with IAEA from early April
  • France, Britain and Germany planned to introduce a resolution at a meeting of the IAEA’s board of governors criticizing Iran’s suspension of some IAEA inspections
  • Diplomats said the resolution will now not be put forward

VIENNA: Iran has accepted holding a series of meetings with the UN nuclear watchdog in order to “clarify a number of outstanding issues,” the body’s Director General Rafael Grossi said Thursday.

“We are going to be starting this process... with a technical meeting which will take place in Iran at the beginning of April, which I hope will be followed by other technical or political meetings,” Grossi, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), told reporters at a press conference.

The new process will be aimed at clarifying queries the IAEA has raised about the possible previous presence of nuclear material at undeclared sites.

Meanwhile, The European nations will not go ahead with a planned resolution criticising Iran at this week’s meeting of the UN nuclear watchdog, diplomatic sources said on Thursday.

France, Britain and Germany had planned to introduce a resolution at a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s board of governors, with the support of the United States, criticising Iran’s suspension of some IAEA inspections.

However, diplomats said the resolution, which had not yet been formally submitted, will now not be put forward.

The decision to hold off was taken “to give time to diplomacy,” one diplomatic source said, pointing to “initiatives undertaken by (IAEA Director General Rafael) Grossi” and signs of “good faith” on the Iranian side.

The latest moves come at a delicate moment for diplomacy on the Iranian nuclear issue, with fragile efforts underway to revive the ailing 2015 deal between Iran and world powers on its nuclear programme.

The Iranian Ambassador to the IAEA Kazem Gharib Abadi, tweeted on Thursday that “due to extensive diplomatic consultations” at the IAEA, “a glimpse of hope is looming to prevent unnecessary tension.”

“Wisdom prevails,” he added.

The US told IAEA that Iran has been given a chance to address the concerns on uranium particles found at undeclared, old sites and Washington will watch closely.

“Iran has now been given another opportunity by the Director General to offer up the necessary cooperation before this Board next meets,” the US statement to the board said, shortly after diplomats said plans for a resolution criticizing Iran had been scrapped.

“The United States, like all Board members, will calibrate our views on the Board’s next steps according to whether Iran seizes the opportunity now before it to finally and credibly address the IAEA's concerns,” it added.

US President Joe Biden has said he is willing to bring the United States back to the landmark 2015 deal, known as the JCPOA.

It has been unravelling since Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump pulled the US out of the agreement in 2018.

Earlier this week, a report in the Iranian Vatan-e-Emrouz newspaper said Tehran had “temporarily suspended the production of uranium metal on the order of the President (Hassan Rouhani).”

The government in Tehran has not disputed the accuracy of the report.

The production of uranium metal goes against a 15-year ban in the JCPOA on “producing or acquiring plutonium or uranium metals or their alloys”

However, Iran says it has the right to breach this and a series of other constraints on its nuclear activities laid down in the deal in retaliation for the US withdrawal from the accord and subsequent imposition of sanctions.

Iran says the uranium metal production is part of its plans to provide advanced fuel for a research reactor in Tehran.

But the topic is sensitive because uranium metal can be used as a component in nuclear weapons.

Late last month Iran suspended some IAEA inspections as US sanctions had not yet been lifted, described by Grossi as a “huge loss” for the agency.

However, after two days of talks with Iranian officials in Tehran, a three-month arrangement was agreed under which Iran pledged to keep recordings “of some activities and monitoring equipment” and hand them over to the IAEA as and when US sanctions are lifted.

Iran had threatened to suspend that arrangement in the event of a critical resolution at the IAEA.

European states and the US criticised Iran’s suspension of inspections in their statements to the IAEA's board this week.

“How does ending such monitoring serve Iran’s goal of re-establishing confidence in its nuclear programmes and intentions?” asked US Charge d'Affaires Louis L Bono.

“These steps are counterproductive, and Iran should reverse them,” he added.


US blasts ICC decision to probe Israel over war crimes

US blasts ICC decision to probe Israel over war crimes
Updated 04 March 2021

US blasts ICC decision to probe Israel over war crimes

US blasts ICC decision to probe Israel over war crimes
  • Secretary of state: International Criminal Court ‘has no jurisdiction over this matter’
  • ICC prosecutor: Decision to investigate ‘followed painstaking preliminary examination that lasted close to five years’

CHICAGO: US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken condemned the decision by the International Criminal Court (ICC) to open a formal investigation into war crimes committed by both Israel’s military and Palestinian militants.

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, who will be replaced by Karim Khan on June 16, said in December 2019: “War crimes have been or are being committed in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.”

She named both the Israel Defense Forces and armed Palestinian groups such as Hamas as possible perpetrators.

Blinken said: “The ICC has no jurisdiction over this matter. Israel is not a party to the ICC and has not consented to the court’s jurisdiction, and we have serious concerns about the ICC’s attempts to exercise its jurisdiction over Israeli personnel.”

The Biden administration “firmly opposes and is deeply disappointed” by this decision, he added. “The Palestinians do not qualify as a sovereign state and therefore are not qualified to obtain membership as a state in, participate as a state in, or delegate jurisdiction to the ICC.”

Despite his denunciation, Blinken said the US “remains deeply committed to ensuring justice and accountability for international atrocity crimes. We recognize the role that international tribunals such as the ICC can play — within their respective mandates — in the pursuit of those important objectives.”

The US “believes a peaceful, secure and more prosperous future for the people of the Middle East depends on building bridges and creating new avenues for dialogue and exchange, not unilateral judicial actions that exacerbate tensions and undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution,” he added.

“We will continue to uphold our strong commitment to Israel and its security, including by opposing actions that seek to target Israel unfairly.”

Israel also denounced the ICC decision, while the Palestinian Authority welcomed it. Bensouda said the decision to open an investigation “followed a painstaking preliminary examination undertaken by my office that lasted close to five years.”

She added: “In the end, our central concern must be for the victims of crimes, both Palestinian and Israeli, arising from the long cycle of violence and insecurity that has caused deep suffering and despair on all sides.”

Ned Price, State Department press secretary, said despite opposing an ICC investigation, the Biden administration “would always stand up for human rights.”

He added: “We are thoroughly reviewing sanctions pursuant to Executive Order 13928 as we determine our next steps.”

Executive Order 13928, issued by former US President Donald Trump in June 2020, “blocks property of certain parties associated with the International Criminal Court.”