MAVEN and Al-Amal scientists sign agreement to collaborate

Scientists running the Mars orbiters MAVEN (from NASA) and Al-Amal (from the United Arab Emirates [UAE]) have signed an agreement to share data and — more importantly — coordinate their observations of the Martian atmosphere.

A new partnership that encourages the sharing of data between NASA’s MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution) project and the Emirates Mars Mission’s (EMM) Hope Probe (Al-Amal in Arabic) will enhance scientific returns from both spacecraft, which are currently orbiting Mars and collecting data on the Red Planet’s atmosphere. The arrangement is expected to add value to both MAVEN and EMM, as well as the scientific communities involved in analyzing the data the missions collect.

MAVEN went into orbit around Mars in 2014. Its mission is to investigate the upper atmosphere and ionosphere of Mars, offering an insight into how the planet’s climate has changed over time. “MAVEN and EMM are each exploring different aspects of the Martian atmosphere and upper-atmosphere system,” said Shannon Curry, MAVEN principal investigator from the University of California, Berkeley. “Combined, we will have a much better understanding of the coupling between the two, and the influence of the lower atmosphere on the escape to space of gas from the upper atmosphere.”

The EMM Hope Probe, which went into Mars orbit in 2021, is studying the relationship between the upper layer and lower regions of the Martian atmosphere, giving insight into the planet’s atmosphere at different times of the day and seasons.

What this agreement means is that the two science teams can more quickly match up the data from both orbiters, and figure out the relationships between both.

UAE Al-Amal Mars orbiter finds surprising variations in Mars atmosphere

Oxygen variations in Martian atmosphere
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The United Arab Emirates Al-Amal (“hope” in English) Mars orbiter has discovered unexpected variations of oxygen and carbon monoxide in the Martian atmosphere.

The EMM team had expected to observe a relatively uniform emission from oxygen at 130.4 nm across the planet and yet here we are, faced with unpredicted variations of 50% or more in the brightness.

The image to the right, cropped and reduced to post here, shows the variations in oxygen on Mars’s dayside. Though the map does not indicate the geography below, the concentration of oxygen in the northern latitudes appears to correspond to the planet’s northern lowland plains. In fact, the variations should not have been a surprise, since the surface of Mars has such a stark dichotomy between its northern and southern hemispheres.

Al-Amal detects Martian aurora

Aurora on Mars

The United Arab Emirates Al-Amal Mars orbiter has detected evidence of a Martian aurora that would be visible at night for short periods.

The ultraviolet images to the right have been reduced slightly to post here.

These three images of atomic oxygen emission at a wavelength of 103.4 nm from the planet Mars were obtained by the Emirates Mars Ultraviolet Spectrometer instrument on 22 April, 23 April, and 06 May 2021 respectively. The full set of data collected during these observations include far and extreme ultraviolet auroral emissions which have never been imaged before at Mars. The beacons of light that stand out against the dark nightside disk are highly structured discrete aurora, which traces out where energetic particles excite the atmosphere after being funneled down by a patchy network of crustal magnetic fields that originate from minerals on the surface of Mars.

Though Mars does not have a magnetic field, it is believed that sections of the planet’s crust are magnetized, and under the right conditions can guide the charged particles from the Sun’s solar wind to the night side to hit the atmosphere where they break up and produce the aurora. Because there is no magnetic field however the particles are not guided by the field lines to the poles, but to different spots at all latitudes, depending on circumstances.

The atomic hydrogen in Mars’ atmosphere

Atomic hydrogen in Mars' atmosphere, as seen by Al-Amal

The two photos to the right, cropped and reduced to post here, were taken by the ultraviolet spectrometer on the UAE Mars orbiter Al-Amal (“Hope” in English) on April 24 and April 25.

During the 10 hours 34 minutes between the images, the Hope probe moved from being over the planet near noon and viewing the entire dayside (top) to being over the planet at dusk and seeing both the day and night side (bottom). These images will be used to reconstruct the 3D distribution of hydrogen and learn more about its production through the process of splitting water molecules by sunlight and its eventual escape to space.

This data will eventually allow scientists to more precisely measure the total water loss to space that Mars’ experiences annually, which will also allow them to determine approximately how much water the planet has lost over the eons.

Al-Amal reaches science orbit

Cerberus Fossae, as seen by Al-Amal
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Elysium Mons and Cereberus Fossae

The new colonial movement: The United Arab Emirates (UAE) Al-Amal (Hope) Mars Orbiter has now reached its science orbit, and will begin its two years of observations (one full Martian year) of the Martian atmosphere on April 14th.

The photo to the right, cropped to post here, is part of a much larger image covering a good portion of the 600-mile-long fissures dubbed Cerberus Fossae and located Elysium Planitia, the vast lava plains located between the giant volcanoes Elysium and Olympus Mons, where most of the Martian quakes have so-far been detected by InSight. The context map below provides a wider context (the red boxes indicating high resolution Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter images). I think the area covered by this section of Al-Amal’s picture is near the western end of Cerberus Fossae.

The image was posted today in the image gallery for Al-Amal. Unfortunately there is no separate webpage for this particular post, so that link will take a long time to load, as apparently all the images there are large, not thumbnails. From their text:

On 15 March 2021, the Emirates eXploration Imager (EXI) captured a monochromatic image of the Cerberus Fossae, a fracture system that stretches for more than 1,000 km across the Martian surface, with a spatial scale of approximately 180 meters/pixel. The Emirates Mars Mission transitioned from the capture orbit to its science orbit with the successful completion of a 510-second burn of its thrusters. The Hope Probe is now in its final orbit of Mars and ready for its two-year science data gathering – the core aim of the mission. The science phase will commence on 14 April 2021.

The goal of Al-Amal is to study the atmosphere. This camera will provide wide shots, mostly for the purpose of observing the coming and going of cloud features. Nonetheless, this is a nice wide view of Mars.

First results from UAE’s Al-Amal/Hope Mars orbiter

First data from Al-Amal
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The first science results from the United Arab Emirates Al-Amal Mars orbiter (“Hope” in English) have been released by the American universities operating one instrument.

The image to the right shows that data. The right globes show the areas of actual temperature data for both the Martian surface and atmosphere, with the left globes extrapolating that data across the entire planet.

The purple-green-blue hues show that the measurements were taken of the Martian nightside, although dawn on the planet can be seen on the right-hand side of the surface temperature image, as depicted by the red hues. Features such as Arabia Terra, which has cold nighttime temperatures, can be observed in the upper left portion of the surface temperature data, depicted by the blue and purple hues.

“EMIRS [the infrared spectrometer] is going to acquire about 60 more images like this per week once we transition into the primary science phase of the Emirates Mars Mission,” said EMIRS Instrument Scientist Christopher Edwards, who is an assistant professor and planetary scientist at [Northern Arizona University]. “We’ll use these images and sophisticated computer programs to build up a complete global, daily understanding of the Martian atmospheric components, like dust, water ice, water vapor and atmospheric temperature.” [emphasis mine]

The highlighted words above illustrate the true nature of this U.S./UAE joint mission. Right now the spacecraft is being operated by Emirate engineers in the UAE, but the spacecraft and its instruments were really built by U.S. universities, paid for by the UAE. As such, those American universities remain in charge of running those instruments, though UAE students are also being used to do that work as part of their education.

None of this is to denigrate the effort by the UAE. It used its financial resources to buy the expertise of American universities and companies to build this Mars orbiter, but did so with the express requirement that those American universities and companies also educate and train its people in such work.

That deal however once again illustrates the value of private enterprise and freedom. The UAE wanted to teach its people how to fly a planetary space mission. American universities had the knowledge to do it. The former then bought the skills from the latter, while the latter then got a science mission for free.

A match made in heaven with both benefiting marvelously.

UAE releases first Al-Amal image of Mars

Al-Amal's first Mars image
Click for full image.

The new colonial movement: The leader of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) yesterday released on his twitter feed the first photo of Mars that was beamed back from its Al-Amal (“hope” in English) orbiter, taken shortly after achieving orbit.

That photo is to the right, cropped and reduced to post here. From the article at the link:

[The photo] was captured by Hope’s EXI instrument from an altitude of 24,700 km (15,350 miles) above the Martian surface at 20:36 GMT on Wednesday – so, one day after arriving at the Red Planet.

The north pole of Mars is in the upper left of the image. At centre, just emerging into the early morning sunlight, is Olympus Mons, the largest volcano in the Solar System. Look right on the boundary between night and day, the so-called terminator.

The three shield volcanoes in a line are Ascraeus Mons, Pavonis Mons, and Arsia Mons. Look east, to the limb of the planet, and you can see the mighty canyon system, Valles Marineris. It’s part covered by cloud.

Right now the spacecraft’s orbit is very eccentric, ranging from 600 to 30,000 miles above the Martian surface. After several orbital trims, Al-Amal will end up in an orbit about 14,000 by about 27,000 miles, with an inclination of about 25 degrees. From that high orbit it will then focus on studying the Martian atmosphere.

Thus, future images will likely be similar to this, global and mostly aimed at tracking visible phenomenon in the atmosphere (dust storms and clouds).

UAE’s Hope or Al-Amal Mars Orbiter orbital insertion

UPDATE: The probe has apparently achieved orbit.

The new colonial movement: The United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) Mars orbiter, Hope, or Al-Amal in Arabic, is about to insert itself into orbit around the red planet, with that insertion to be confirmed by 11:08 (Eastern).

If you want to watch, I have embedded the live stream below the fold. A warning: The insertion is a relatively interesting event to watch, as the orbiter works autonomously and the signal confirming it happened arrives after the event. Most of the stream is propaganda for the UAE.
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UAE’S Hope Mars Orbiter images Mars

The United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) Hope Mars Orbiter has successfully imaged Mars for the first time using its star tracker camera, proving both that the spacecraft is on course and that its pointing capabilities are working as well .

“The Hope probe is officially 100 million km [60 million miles] into its journey to the Red Planet,” Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, prime minister of the UAE, wrote on Twitter on Monday (Aug. 24). “Mars, as demonstrated in the image captured by the probe’s star tracker, is ahead of us, leaving Saturn and Jupiter behind. The Hope probe is expected to arrive to Mars in February 2021.”

The star tracker is designed to keep Hope on course, telling the spacecraft precisely where it is. In addition, the probe carries a more traditional camera for use once it arrives at Mars and begins its science work.

Arrival in Mars orbit will take place in February ’21.

Hope completes first course correction on trip to Mars

The new colonial movement: The United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) Mars Hope orbiter has successfully completed its first course correction on its journey to Mars.

The success of this maneuver is a big deal, as it appears it was controlled from the UAE’s control center by its engineers. Up to now this project has mostly been a joint U.S/UAE project, launched by Japan, with U.S. universities doing the heavy lifting while training UAE personnel. Now the UAE engineers are in charge, and so they have to get it right.

They have another half dozen course corrections scheduled before arrival in February 2021, when the spacecraft will have its big maneuver, entering Martian orbit.

Why the UAE’s Hope Mars Orbiter is really a US mission for UAE’s students

Today there were many many news stories touting the successful launch of the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) first interplanetary probe, Hope, (al-Amal in Arabic), successfully launched yesterday from Japan. This story at collectSpace is typical, describing the mission in detail and noting its overall goals not only to study the Martian atmosphere but to inspire the young people in the UAE to pursue futures in the fields of science and engineering.

What most of these reports gloss over is how little of Hope was really built by the UAE. The UAE paid the bills, but during design and construction almost everything was done by American universities as part of their education programs, though arranged so that it was UAE’s students and engineers who were getting the education.
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The plans for the first Arab probe to Mars revealed

The competition heats up: The United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Thursday unveiled its plans for its first unmanned mission to Mars, dubbed al-Amal (“Hope”).

They hope to launch by 2020.

Forgive me if I am skeptical. Unlike India, which just succeeded in doing this, the UAE has no history or background in space exploration. India has been building satellites for decades. It has its own rockets. It had already launched a successful mission to the Moon. The UAE has done none of this yet. They are starting from ground zero.

Then again, one has to start somewhere.

This UAE effort illustrates again what I call the new colonial movement, where nations across the globe are increasingly pushing to participate in the exploration of space, because they realize that if they don’t, they will get left behind by their neighbors. Whether or not UAE succeeds, their decision to enter the competition proves the competition exists, and such a competition can only add energy to the effort to colonize the solar system.