In Arab world's first, UAE successfully launches its spacecraft towards Mars

Emiratis brimmed with joy and pride as the UAE made history on Monday by successfully launching its spacecraft “Al Amal” towards Mars from a Japanese launch centre, marking the Arab world’s first interplanetary mission, according to media reports.

Al Amal, or Hope Probe, weighing 1.3 tonnes was launched from the H-2A rocket from Japan’s remote Tanegashima spaceport at 1.58 am local time.

The probe’s telecom system was set up and it transmitted its first signal after it successfully separated from the launch vehicle and its solar panels were deployed with clockwork precision an hour after the launch, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Launch Services, which is the launch operator, confirmed.

The signals were received by the Mission Control team in Dubai’s Al Khawaneej, the Khaleej Times reported.

The solar panels will charge the batteries of the spacecraft for its 495,000,000 kms journey to Mars, it said.

Omar Sultan Al Olama, Minister of State for Digital Economy, Artificial Intelligence and Remote Working System, said COVID-19 was the “biggest” hurdle that the Emirates Mars Mission team had to overcome.

“The team had to work backwards just to ensure that everything arrives in Japan before the launch period, and so that COVID-19 and the closure of borders do not affect the launch and the mission itself,” Al Olama was quoted as saying in the report.

The Dh735-million (USD 200 million) project, which is the first interplanetary mission by any Arab nation, took six years by a team of 135 Emirati engineers, scientists and researchers.

Hope’s arrival in February 2021 is set to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the UAE’s formation.

The Gulf News reported that around 200 days from now, the spacecraft will reach the Mars orbit and begin its mission to study the Red Planet’s atmosphere.

Thanks to proper planning and “countless sleepless nights”, Hope is now on its way to Mars, the minister said, lauding the contributions of the team members.

“It’s like a three-way race to Mars this year and the UAE is headed to be the first country to reach Mars before US and China,” Ahmad Belhoul Al Falasi, Chairman of the UAE Space Agency, was quoted as saying by the Gulf News.

Most Mars missions orbit at a single local time that allows the atmosphere to be measured at only one time of day but Hope Probe will circle Mars for the entire Martian year, which is equivalent to almost two Earth years, the report said.

Dubai’s ground control room erupted with joy after the successful lift off.

“As citizens and residents we are proud to be part of this visionary and innovative era of the UAE’s growth. No doubt, this will open a new chapter in the glorious history of the UAE, where new frontiers in space travel will be explored,” Mustafa Al Husseiny, an Emirati, was quoted as saying by the Khaleej Times.

Al Husseiny, general manager of Golden Loaf, said he was particularly looking forward to the launch countdown that was done in Arabic.

“It is a matter of honour that for the first time in history, Arabic numbers were used for such a countdown,” he said.

Shaneer Nusrat Siddiqui, former project coordinator at Al Thuraya Astronomy Centre, said, “with the way the UAE is heading towards space science, the country is set to become a key player in the space industry in the coming years. Especially from the education, commercial and business point of view, it is a very new industry and, definitely, the UAE is going to have a major share in this industry.”

“This Hope mission will be a push to the business with space-related technology,” Siddiquie was quoted as saying in the Khaleej Times report.