The first flight in a parade of three new visitors arrives at Mars on Tuesday when an robotic probe called Hope, the first interplanetary mission by an Arab country, enters orbit.
For people in the United Arab Emirates, just getting there has become a source of pride. Over the weekend, a number of notable buildings and monuments in the oil-rich country, about the size of Maine, were lit red in honor of the red planet.
“From the UAE government’s point of view, 90% of this mission has been successfully accomplished,” said Imran Sharaf, Project Manager of Hope.
For the remaining 10 percent, there is now little to do other than watch and wait while the spacecraft carries out instructions already loaded into its computer.
Sarah Al-Ameri, who is leading the science portion of the mission, said she felt a whole range of emotions when the spacecraft launched last summer. But now as it approaches Mars, she said, “This is further condensing it.”
Once the spacecraft enters orbit, it can begin to study the red planet’s atmosphere and weather.
But if some trouble causes the spacecraft to miss Mars and sail to the solar system, that would likely be the end of the mission. “If you don’t arrive, you won’t,” Ms. Al-Amiri said.
On Tuesday 7:42 p.m. in the United Arab Emirates – 10:42 a.m. ET – observers at the Mission’s operations center in Dubai will receive word from the spacecraft that it has begun launching missiles to slow its speed and allow it to fall into slavery. From the gravity of Mars.
Since it will take 11 minutes for the radio signal to travel to Earth from Mars, the launch of the rocket will already begin 11 minutes earlier, and if anything goes wrong, it will be already too late.
After twenty-seven minutes, the defenses would close. Five minutes after the shooting ends, the spacecraft will pass behind Mars and be out of contact for 15 minutes. When it does appear again, observers can confirm whether it is sliding along a very elliptical path around Mars.
The mission is to spend two years studying how dust storms and other weather conditions near the surface affect the speed at which Martian air seeps away into outer space.
One day after the Hope Maneuver, Chinese spacecraft, Tianwen-1Is entering into orbit around Mars, too. The Chinese mission will carry a landing craft and a mobile vehicle to explore a major impact basin called Utopia Planetia, but they will not be separated from the probe and head to the surface until May.
Then on Thursday of next week, NASA’s latest probe, Perseverance, will also reach Mars. Without first entering orbit, it would slow down instead at a speed of 12,000 mph to a full stop on Mars, what NASA calls “seven minutes of terror.”
The goal of perseverance is Jezero CraterA dry lake that appears to be a site where signs of life could be preserved, should life arise on Mars.
All three missions were launched last July to take advantage of the positive alignment between Earth and Mars that occurs every 26 months.
While NASA has decades of experience launching spacecraft to other planets, and China has successfully sent in recent years a series of robotic missions to the moon, the UAE is a newcomer in planetary science.
Hope’s mission is An extraordinary cooperation between the United Arab Emirates and the Atmospheric and Space Physics Laboratory, A research institute at the University of Colorado has been on space missions for more than half a century.
Although the spacecraft was built in Colorado, many engineers from the Emirates have spent years living there and gain experience while working with their more experienced American counterparts.
Ms Al-Amiri said the mission also spurred broader interest in space, as people in the UAE asked questions such as why there is a delay in communications between Earth and Mars and why it is difficult to enter orbit.
“It has been wonderful to enhance scientific communication with the general public and gain understanding in a field that has been largely ignored, not only within the country, but within the region,” said Ms. Al-Amiri. “It wasn’t something that was the topic of conversation.”
And because the UAE also does not possess rockets or launchers, the Hope spacecraft traveled to Japan to lift it into space. Launching in July On the H-IIA missile, manufactured by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Limited.
In the seven months that followed, the spacecraft, which weighed nearly 3,000 pounds and is the size of an SUV, traveled 300 million miles. The mission controllers were able to abandon the two final planned path corrections, because the spacecraft remained on target.
Along the way, the spacecraft managed to make some additional scientific observations. In one, Hope and BepiColombo, a joint European-Japanese spacecraft on a spiral route to Mercury, turned to face each other and made identical measurements of hydrogen between the two spacecraft. This should help scientists working on both missions calibrate their instruments as well as learn some new information about the solar system.
Another set of observations attempted to track interplanetary dust.
Ms. Al-Amiri said, “The opportunity has come for itself, and we know that these datasets are very rare for scientists studying this type of science, and therefore we hope to launch them soon and benefit the community.