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.”


Rockets hit Baghdad airport compound

Rockets hit Baghdad airport compound
Updated 57 min 28 sec ago

Rockets hit Baghdad airport compound

Rockets hit Baghdad airport compound
  • US air base, known as Camp Victory, is located around the perimeter of Baghdad’s civilian airport

BAGHDAD: At least three rockets landed in the Baghdad International Airport compound and near an adjacent US air base, damaging one disused civilian aeroplane, Iraqi police sources said.
The police sources did not report any other damage or any injuries. The damaged aircraft was an out of use Iraqi Airways plane, they said.
The US air base, known as Camp Victory, is located around the perimeter of Baghdad’s civilian airport.
Rocket attacks which US and some Iraqi officials blame on Iran-aligned Shiite militia groups who oppose the US military presence in the region have regularly hit the complex in recent years.


Coalition says target in Saada airstrike was a Houthi special security camp

Coalition says target in Saada airstrike was a Houthi special security camp
Updated 28 January 2022

Coalition says target in Saada airstrike was a Houthi special security camp

Coalition says target in Saada airstrike was a Houthi special security camp
  • Coalition spokesman slams Houthis for peddling misleading information
  • Joint Forces Command ready to present facts to UN Humanitarian and Red Cross teams

RIYADH: The Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen on Friday denied targeting a prison in Saada and accused the Houthi militia of trying to mislead the public.

Houthi officials on Thursday claimed that coalition air strikes last week killed around 90 people and wounded more than 200 at Saada prison.

In a statement carried by the Saudi Press Agency, Coalition spokesman Brig. Gen. Turki Al-Malki said the targeted location was a Houthi special security camp, which is a "legitimate military target". 

Al-Maliki cited a report of the Joint Incidents Assessment Team (JIAT) dated January 27, 2022, after investigating the Houthis' claim.

The statement said there are four locations identified as prisons in the Joint Forces Command’s No Strike List (NSL) in Saada, all of which are being used by the "terrorist Houthi militia" in launching "cross-border attacks to target civilians and civilian objects."

The closest prison is located 1.8 kilometers away from the site targeted in a coalition air strike.

"What was announced and disseminated by the terrorist Houthi militia in its media outlets is a blatant attempt to mislead the public opinion regarding the true nature of the location in an attempt to garner sympathy from UN organizations and INGOs," Al-Maliki said in the statement.

He assured that the Joint Forces Command "applies the highest targeting standards."

The Coalition said it is prepared to shed light on the issue with representatives of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and Red Cross.

"The terrorist Houthi militia bears the full responsibility in case it uses civilians as human shields in its military locations," Al-Maliki said.

Fighting has escalated in recent weeks, with more air strikes on what the coalition says are Houthi military targets.

The Iran-aligned Houthi movement has stepped up missile and drone attacks on the United Arab Emirates and cross-border launches on neighbouring Saudi Arabia.

The coalition had previously accused the Houthis of using civilian centers as a shield against legitimate strikes.


Qatari official’s Iran visit gives hope for talks breakthrough

Qatari official’s Iran visit gives hope for talks breakthrough
Updated 28 January 2022

Qatari official’s Iran visit gives hope for talks breakthrough

Qatari official’s Iran visit gives hope for talks breakthrough
  • Sheikh Tamim to meet US President Joe Biden on Jan. 31

DUBAI: Qatar’s top diplomat visited Iran on Thursday, days before Qatar’s emir holds talks in Washington at a crucial time for efforts by Tehran and major powers to revive a 2015 nuclear pact.
The visit by Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani comes after his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amirabdollahian on Monday said Tehran is ready to consider direct talks with Washington if it feels it can get a “good nuclear deal.”
However, Iran’s state news agency IRNA said the visit was not intended to help set up direct talks with Washington.
“Although Doha and Tehran are experiencing good and close relations, this visit ... has fueled some misconceptions. Some are fabricating it to facilitate direct talks with the United States,” IRNA said.
The US and Iran have held eight rounds of indirect talks in Vienna since April aimed at reinstating the pact that lifted sanctions against Tehran in exchange for restrictions on its nuclear program.
After then-US President Donald Trump quit the nuclear deal in 2018 and reimposed harsh sanctions, Iran gradually started violating the pact’s nuclear curbs.

BACKGROUND

The US and Iran have held eight rounds of indirect talks in Vienna since April aimed at reinstating the pact that lifted sanctions against Tehran in exchange for restrictions on its nuclear program.

Significant gaps remain about the speed and scope of returning to the deal, including Iran’s demand for a US guarantee of no further punitive steps, and how and when to restore curbs on Iran’s atomic work.
Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, will hold talks with US President Joe Biden on Jan. 31. They will include efforts to salvage the pact. The minister, Sheikh Mohammed, is expected in Washington on Friday in advance of the emir’s visit.
Iran’s hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi emphasized the importance of “deepening ties between regional countries” in a meeting with Sheikh Mohammed, who invited the president to attend the Gas Exporting Countries Forum summit in February in Doha.
The lead US nuclear negotiator told Reuters on Sunday that securing the nuclear deal is unlikely unless Tehran releases four US citizens Washington says it is holding hostage.
While ruling out any US preconditions, Iran said on Monday that Tehran and Washington can reach “a lasting agreement on both separate paths (the Vienna talks and the prisoner exchange) if the other party has the will.”
Iranian officials have refused to comment on the matter, but Tehran has repeatedly said it is ready for a full prisoner exchange with Washington.
Tehran denies holding people for political reasons. It has accused many of the dual-nationals and foreigners in its jails of espionage.
Tehran says Iranians detained in the US, mostly for breaking sanctions, are being unjustly held.


UAE leading model of global human solidarity: Vatican secretary of state

UAE leading model of global human solidarity: Vatican secretary of state
Updated 28 January 2022

UAE leading model of global human solidarity: Vatican secretary of state

UAE leading model of global human solidarity: Vatican secretary of state
  • Cardinal Pietro Parolin was speaking during a phone call with UAE foreign minister
  • He expressed his solidarity with the UAE following a terrorist attack by Yemen’s Houthi militia

LONDON: The Vatican said the UAE is a leading model of global human solidarity, and its humanitarian initiatives help promote peaceful coexistence, tolerance and peace around the world, Emirati state news agency WAM reported on Thursday.
Speaking during a phone call with UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, expressed his solidarity with the UAE following a terrorist attack by Yemen’s Houthi militia on civilian facilities in the UAE capital.
The Iran-backed Houthi militia launched a number of drones and missiles toward Abu Dhabi on Jan. 17, which were intercepted and destroyed by the UAE defense ministry, however, remnants landed in separate areas around the capital, killing three people and injuring seven.
Parolin offered his sincere condolences to the victims of the attack, and wished the injured a speedy recovery.
Sheikh Abdullah thanked Parolin for his sentiments, and praised the Vatican’s outstanding role in serving humanitarian issues and promoting the values of tolerance and coexistence among all peoples.
Sheikh Abdullah also affirmed the UAE’s keenness to strengthen its relations with the Vatican across various levels.
Relations between the UAE and the Vatican have witnessed continuous growth, especially at the humanitarian level, after the Emirates hosted the Human Fraternity Meeting between Pope Francis, head of the Catholic Church, and Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Ahmad Al-Tayyib in 2019.
During the meeting, the “Document on Human Fraternity” was signed to promote human relations, build bridges of communication, harmony and love between peoples, and tackle extremism.


UAE medical convoy of one million COVID-19 vaccines arrives in Gaza Strip

A Palestinian security officer stands at attention during the arrival of the Sputnik V vaccine, donated by the UAE, at a cold storage warehouse in Gaza City on Jan. 26, 2022. (AFP)
A Palestinian security officer stands at attention during the arrival of the Sputnik V vaccine, donated by the UAE, at a cold storage warehouse in Gaza City on Jan. 26, 2022. (AFP)
Updated 28 January 2022

UAE medical convoy of one million COVID-19 vaccines arrives in Gaza Strip

A Palestinian security officer stands at attention during the arrival of the Sputnik V vaccine, donated by the UAE, at a cold storage warehouse in Gaza City on Jan. 26, 2022. (AFP)
  • The Sputnik vaccines will be immediately distributed to vaccination centers to encourage Gazans to get vaccinated
  • It is the largest medical support convoy from the UAE for the Gaza Strip since the pandemic began

LONDON: A UAE medical convoy of COVID-19 vaccines arrived in the Gaza Strip via the Rafah crossing on Wednesday to help combat the coronavirus pandemic, Emirati state news agency WAM reported on Thursday.
The convoy, containing one million Sputnik shots, “is the largest medical support convoy from the UAE for the Gaza Strip since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the statement said.
The vaccines will be immediately distributed to vaccination centers to encourage Gazans to get vaccinated after the impoverished territory entered a fourth wave of the pandemic.
Ghazi Hamad, the undersecretary of the Ministry of Social Development, thanked the UAE for its assistance, which comes at a critical time, and said it would enhance the health sector’s ability to effectively confront the spread of the virus.
He was speaking during a press conference at the Rafah crossing in the southern Gaza Strip after the arrival of the convoy.
Former Palestinian health minister Dr. Jawad Al-Tibi said the health sector is one of the most time-consuming sectors and great efforts are required to combat this global epidemic.
“The UAE sends aid after aid to support our steadfastness and to face difficulties and diseases in the Gaza Strip,” he said, adding: “This batch of Emirati aid comes at the right time to support the health sector and vaccinate students.”