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.
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.
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. » Read more
First, the launch of UAE’s Hope orbiter by Mitsubishi’s H-2A rocket has been pushed back to July 20th due to bad weather. Their launch window extends to August 3rd, so they still have two weeks before it closes.
Second, China has rolled to the launchpad the Long March 5 rocket, with the Tienwen-1 orbiter/lander/rover. Though they have only said that the launch will occur between July 20th and July 25th, based on past operations, they usually launch six days after roll-out, putting the launch date as July 23.
The launches planned for tomorrow by SpaceX and Japan’s space agency JAXA have both been postponed, for different reasons.
The SpaceX launch of a South Korean military satellite was postponed in order to swap out equipment in the Falcon’s upper stage. No new launch date has yet been announced.
The JAXA launch, using Mitsubishi’s H-2A rocket, was to launch the United Arab Emirates’ Mars orbiter Hope. It was postponed due to bad weather. Their next launch window is July 16, but they have not yet announced a new launch date. Like Perseverance, they must launch this summer or they will have to wait two years for the next launch window to Mars to reopen.
If all goes well it will enter Mars orbit in February 2021.
The probe is a UAE project in name only. Much of it was built in the U.S. by U.S. companies, working with UAE engineers and scientists. It is also being launched by Japan.
Regardless, the training and knowledge obtained by those UAE engineers and scientists is the real point of the mission. The UAE wants to diversify its economy away from oil, and it is trying to use the excitement of space exploration to do it. It hopes these engineers and scientists will use what they learned to come up with new projects that in the future will be built entirely in the UAE.
Previously I had thought the probe had been built in the UAE with help from engineers from India, but that was not the case. Instead, the probe was mostly built by Americans, in America.
Carrying three science instruments, the Hope mission will measure conditions in the Martian atmosphere from a unique semi-synchronous orbit high above the Red Planet. The mission is the first from the Arab world to travel to another planet.
About the size of Mini Cooper, the spacecraft was assembled at LASP’s facilities in Colorado [Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics], with the help of Emirati engineers and scientists. The probe was delivered to Dubai in February for additional testing, and then was supposed to be transported to Japan in early May.
But the coronavirus pandemic forced officials to shuffle the schedule, and mission managers decided to send the probe to Japan early. [emphasis mine]
In other words, this probe might be financed by the UAE, and it might have UAE engineers and scientists involved, but essentially the UAE paid LASP to build it for them.
I am not criticizing the UAE for this effort, but to call it an Arab mission is somewhat dishonest. This is a joint American-UAE probe. If it results in producing qualified engineers in the UAE capability of building their own future planetary probe, fine. They are not doing it now, however.
The Probe has already entered an intensive testing phase to ensure its readiness before the launch date, with less than 500 days are remaining for the launch. It is planned to reach Mars by 2021, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the founding of the UAE.
Several aspects related to the design, assembly of the structure, cameras and control have been verified. So far, the Probe’s systems and components, as well as its ability to communicate with the ground station have been checked by the team. The Probe has succeeded in all the tests it has been subject to so far, ahead of the five environmental tests to be conducted on the probe from June to December 2019.
While this is likely true, we must remain a bit skeptical. Though the link goes to a Reuters Arab news source, the story appears to be entirely a copy of the press release. I know this because five different Arabian news sources used the exact same language in their stories, apparently all copying from the same release.
Thus, we don’t have any independent press in the UAE looking at what is going on here. This could be true, but who knows?
The new colonial movement: According to one of the chief engineers for the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) unmanned mission to Mars, dubbed Hope, the spacecraft is on schedule for its 2020 launch by a Japanese rocket.
If all goes right, Hope will go into Martian orbit in 2021.
The quotes in the article from that chief engineer reveal somewhat the overall shallowness of UAE’s space effort at this point.
Omar Hussain, Lead Mission Design and Navigation Engineer for the Emirates Mars Mission, speaking at the Science Event 2019 held at Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre in Dubai, said the team have had to overcome a number of challenges along the way.
“It is too early to talk about a specific date just yet but everything is on track and there have been no delays,” said the 29-year-old Emirati. “Speaking for myself, it has been challenging because I had to switch from planning for Earth-based projects to interplanetary missions.
“It took a lot of education to get to that point as I had never done a mission that goes beyond the Earth’s lower orbits. I had to study how I would get the spacecraft from Earth to Mars.”
The goal with their space program is to help diversify UAE’s economy. It might eventually do this, but for now, they I think are very dependent on the help they are getting from others. Japan is providing the rocket, and India the engineering expertise for the spacecraft.
An evening pause: Tomorrow will be the 41st anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing on the Moon. So, let’s start the week with a clip from the 1972 film version of Man of La Mancha to show why some impossible dreams are certainly possible. In this short scene, Peter O’Toole, as Cervantes, explains why he does not like to look at life, “as it is.”