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Friday, February 26, 2021

Explained: What next for UAE’s Hope Mars probe?

Hope Mars Probe: Once it is successfully able to reach the planet, it will start orbiting the planet. Its overall mission life is one Martian year, which is about 687 days on Earth.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: February 11, 2021 8:50:10 am
his June 1, 2020 illustration provided by Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre depicts the United Arab Emirates' Hope Mars probe. (Alexander McNabb/MBRSC via AP)

Known as the Hope Probe, the Arab world’s first mission to Mars which took off in July last year is about seven hours away from its destination. Travelling at a speed of 77,000 mph, the spacecraft called Amal, Arabic for Hope, will need to fire its brake engines for about 27 minutes so that it is captured by the planet’s gravity.

If it is successful, scientists will be ableHope Probe to carry out the objectives of the mission, which include understanding the climate dynamics on the planet and characterising the lower atmosphere of Mars.

What is the Hope probe?

Hope was developed by UAE scientists in the US. It was launched in July 2020 from the Tanegashima Space Centre in Japan aboard a Mitsubishi Heavy Industries’ H-II A rocket and its launch became the 45th for H-II A. Carrying three instruments, including a high-resolution camera and a spectrometer, the spacecraft is on an orbital mission to collect data on Martian climate dynamics and help scientists understand why Mars’s atmosphere is decaying into space.

Hope is the UAE’s fourth space mission and first interplanetary one. The previous three were all Earth-observation satellites. Once it is successfully able to reach the planet, it will start orbiting the planet. Its overall mission life is one Martian year, which is about 687 days on Earth.

Why Mars?

Apart from the UAE, the US and China also launched missions to Mars during the brief launch window which was available in July. During this launch window, Earth and Mars were aligned at their closest points in two years, which means using less fuel to reach the planet. Launch windows are significant since if a spacecraft is launched too early or too late, it will arrive in the planet’s orbit when the planet is not there.

The growing number of missions to Mars by different space agencies across the world is part of the competitive space race, a bid to establish themselves as a leader in space exploration. Not only national space agencies but aerospace manufacturers such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX too harbour ambitious missions to the Red planet. SpaceX, for instance, sees Mars as an alternative to living on Earth since it is its “closest habitable neighbour”.

What makes scientists and researchers curious about Mars is also the possibility that the planet was once warm enough to allow water to flow through it, which means life could have existed there too. This question makes the planet more intriguing for scientists since “almost everywhere we find water on Earth, we find life,” as NASA puts it.

However, no human has set foot on Mars yet because the atmosphere on Mars is very thin, consisting of mostly carbon dioxide with no breathable oxygen, making it difficult for astronauts to survive there. Further, the landscape of Mars is freezing, with no protection from the Sun’s radiation or passing dust storms. Therefore, more research, technology and testing is required to be able to send humans to Mars. NASA plans to do so by the 2030s.

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According to the Planetary Society, Mars has historically been “unfriendly” to Earth’s attempts to visit it and more missions have been planned to reach Mars than any other planet or place in the solar system, barring the Moon. According to Science magazine, out of the 18 lander or rover missions to Mars, only 10 have been successful.

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