UAE is reaching for the stars with our Mars probe to give Hope to all
‘Some 50pc of all Mars missions ever launched have failed. A single vibrating part can lead to disaster’
For decades, space exploration has been dominated by a handful of major powers. Only four countries have ever sent spacecraft to Mars.
But things are set to change tomorrow evening, when a rocket carrying a sophisticated and highly autonomous probe will blast off, starting a nine-month journey to the red planet.
The device will study the entirety of the Martian upper and lower atmosphere for the first time.
It will give us answers to key scientific questions about weather patterns, atmospheric dynamics and the mystery of why so much of the once thick Martian atmosphere has blown off into space.
This is not the work of the European Space Agency. Or Nasa. Or the China National Space Administration.
The Hope Mars Probe has been conceived, designed and built by a team from the United Arab Emirates.
The people behind the Arab world’s first interplanetary mission are a remarkable group of Emirati scientists and engineers.
Working with scientific partners around the world, this group of young people (the majority under the age of 35) have delivered Hope on budget, and in just six years. That is almost half the time typical of interplanetary missions.
The technical challenges of reaching Mars are vastly harder than those required to put a satellite into Earth’s orbit. Some 50pc of all Mars missions ever launched have failed. A single vibrating part can lead to disaster.
In recent months the team’s work has been made even harder by Covid-19 social distancing measures in both the UAE and Japan, where Hope will launch from. Nonetheless, the device has been readied for a tight launch window dictated by the orbits of the planets.
The Emirates Mars Mission is just the start. The UAE is in the process of building up a hi-tech domestic industry that will send commercial and scientific missions into space. By 2117 we aim to have established a human settlement on Mars.
That might sound fanciful for a country of 10 million people. But reaching for the stars is crucial to the UAE’s national development strategy. Without it, we cannot hope to build a flourishing, post-oil knowledge economy that offers opportunities to all our young people.
We are already as well known for finance, tourism and trade as we are for oil production. But we want to be a player in the industries of the future as well, including artificial intelligence and advanced manufacturing.
Our space programme is giving us the science and technology base we need.
It has already changed perceptions of careers in science. University physics departments have doubled in size to cater for growing demand from students. Entire new degree courses have been created. We have seen record numbers of students move to science, technology, engineering and mathematics degrees.
But this is bigger than just the UAE. Scientists across the world will benefit from Hope’s data, which will be released on an open-access basis to the global research community.
And it will help spark a revival of science across the Middle East. Once a centre of learning, the Arab world has been falling behind for centuries. It has become a byword for extremism and conflict, rather than tolerance and scientific progress.
The region’s 100m young Arabs deserve better.
As the name suggests, this Mars satellite is intended to give them Hope.