With the successful launch of the Arab world’s first Mars mission, the United Arab Emirates is one step closer to becoming an interstellar nation. With the help of the Mitsubishi rocket booster, the Hope probe, or Amal, has taken off from Japan’s Seed Island. For the UAE, the launch was historic, and even a breakthrough in the countdown: 10 seconds before launch, the first broadcast was made in Arabic.
The mission was not without episodes, with the weather in Japan forcing the team to postpone it twice. A bigger problem is that the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic has been hanging over the mission.
“The pandemic is clearly not in our plans,” Farhad al-Mehri, executive director of the space division of the UAE Space Agency, said in a live broadcast. “It’s not something we can design ourselves.”
The skies were clear after the delayed launch, and just before 3 p.m. Pacific time on Sunday/2 a.m. On Monday at 7 a.m. Japan time, the Mitsubishi rocket booster lifted off from the Seed Island Space Center in perfect shape.
The rocket broke through the blue to the upper atmosphere, and the first-stage booster landed cleanly. At around 3:55 p.m. Pacific time, the Hope probe separated from the Mitsubishi rocket booster to applause from the Japanese launch center. The separation put the car-sized probe into a transfer orbit and embarked on a journey of about 500 million kilometers (310 million miles) to the Red Planet.
If the journey goes well, the probe will arrive on Mars in about seven months.
According to the UAE Space Agency’s Mars Mission website, the spacecraft will orbit Mars to “study the dynamics of the Martian atmosphere on a global scale and at day and night and seasonal time scales.” The probe is also equipped with photographic equipment to take high-resolution photos of the Red Planet.
While large agencies such as NASA, the European Space Agency and the Russian space agency tend to take notice of the focus on space projects, the UAE Space Agency is helping to prove that small projects also have space to make a difference in space exploration.
Hope is not the only project in the Mars mission’s launch window, with NASA hoping to launch its “Swill” probe by the end of July, and China launching its own Skyquestion 1 probe later this month.
If these missions go ahead as planned, it will be a busy February for Mars watchers. But in any case, Hope has won the first of these three missions to embark on an epic journey.