September 16, 2022 Quick space links

Courtesy of BtB’s stringer Jay, who trolls Twitter so I don’t have to.

Martian auroras as seen by UAE’s Al-Amal orbiter

Aurora types on Mars
Click for full image.

Using data gathered by the Al-Amal orbiter (“Hope” in English), scientists have identified three types of aurora on Mars. The image to the right, figure 1 from their paper, shows these types, crustal field aurora, patchy aurora, and sinuous aurora. From the abstract:

We categorize discrete auroral patterns into three types: those near strong vertical crustal magnetic field, patchy aurora near very weak crustal fields, and a new type we call “sinuous,” an elongated serpentine structure that stretches thousands of kilometers into the nightside from near midnight in the northern hemisphere.

All three types generally occur during the Martian night, and evolve quickly over periods of less than 45 minutes. The first type, which is generally the brightest, forms over terrain where Mars’ residual magnetic field is strongest and vertically oriented, and was most often seen over the southern cratered highlands centered between the large impact basins Argyre and Hellas. The third type, sinuous aurora, was more unusual:

These we are calling “sinuous discrete aurora,” due to their thin, elongated, and sometimes serpentine shapes. They share several key traits: (a) they appear in the northern hemisphere away from strong crustal fields, (b) they usually connect to the dayside in the far north but also sometimes separately at lower latitudes, (c) they extend for thousands of kilometers into the night side, (d) they appear on both dusk and dawn sides, and (e) their shapes change moderately and brightnesses shift by factors of up to two over timescales of ∼20 min (i.e., the time between swaths, as shown in the differences between Figures 1j and 1k [in the figure above).

The existence of aurora on Mars has been known since the 2000s. These observations however are the first that show more details beyond a fuzzy patch.

Dust and clouds in the Martian atmosphere, as seen by UAE’s Al-Amal orbiter

Two new science papers have just been released detailing results from the Al-Amal (Hope) Mars orbiter that was designed and built by American universities for the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Both papers used data obtained from the orbiter’s infrared spectrometer, dubbed the Emirates Mars Infrared Spectrometer (EMIRS).

Daily cloud cover changes on Mars
Figure 1 from paper. Click for full image.

First, the instrument tracked the daily changes in the planet’s cloud cover.

A prominent region of clouds that is commonly observed near the equator during Mars’ cold season—known as the aphelion cloud belt—was observed to reach a minimum near midday, with more clouds typically observed in both the morning and afternoon. Distinct differences were found in clouds observed near volcanoes, which tended to reach a minimum before local noon and increase throughout the afternoon.

The figure to the right shows this. In the morning and afternoon (LTST’s 7 and 17), there is a high concentration of clouds in the equatorial region above the Tharsis Bulge where the highest Martian volcanoes are located. During the middle of the day (LTSTs 11 and 13) this cloud cover largely dissipates, with a corresponding increase in cloud cover in Hellas Basin, in the southern hemisphere.

The second paper took a more general look at the data, including the change in temperature depending on elevation as well as dust and water content during the Martian northern spring and summer. From the abstract:
» Read more

UAE names astronaut to fly on six month commercial ISS mission, purchased from Axiom

Sultan Al Neyadi in training
Sultan Al Neyadi in training

Capitalism in space: The United Arab Emirates (UAE) yesterday announced that 41-year-old Sultan Al Neyadi will fly on six month ISS mission, launching in the spring of 2023. purchased from Axiom.

The UAE purchased a seat on the Falcon 9 rocket from Axiom Space, a space infrastructure development company in Houston. This is the Falcon 9 seat that Axiom Space was given by Nasa after the company gave up its Russian Soyuz rocket seat for American astronaut Mark Vande Hei in 2021.

MBRSC did not disclose how much they paid Axiom for the seat, but the agreement includes transport to and from the space station; comprehensive mission support; all necessary training and preparation for launch; flight operations, landing and crew rescue services.

The deal behind this seat is very complex. Essentially, Axiom paid for the seat of Mark Vande Hei’s flight on a Soyuz capsule from 2021 to 2022 (because NASA had no authorized funds to purchase that seat), and got a later seat on a Dragon for an Axiom commercial customer. It then signed a deal with the UAE for Al Neyedi’s flight in late April.

The result is the first long term commercial mission to space.

Al Neyadi has been in training for four years, and acted as the back up astronaut to the first UAE manned flight to ISS, purchased from the Russians in 2019.

Ispace now aiming for a November ’22 launch of its lunar lander

Capitalism in space: The private Japanese company Ispace today announced that it is targeting November 2022 for the launch of its Hakuto-R lunar lander, carrying commercial as well as governmental payloads.

The launch will be on a Falcon 9 rocket. The payload includes two small rovers, one built by Ispace and a second, Rashid, built by the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Rashid has already been delivered to SpaceX. This announcement indicates that Hakuto-R is on schedule for delivery in time for that November launch.

Both rovers are engineering tests, and will are expected to only function on the Moon for one lunar day.

UAE earmarks $820 million for space-related projects

The new colonial movement: The government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) announced yesterday that it has budgeted $820 million for its space program, with the first project to be a constellation of Earth observation satellites.

Its first project will be to build a constellation of advanced imaging satellites, to be named Sirb, an Arabic term for a flock of birds. They will be used for environmental and land usage monitoring, data collection, and analysis. “These small-scale satellites are more agile, faster to develop and more powerful – an indicator of the types of new generation systems that technology is now making possible,” Al Amari said, noting the satellite’s use of SAR (synthetic aperture radar) technology.

The goal is to launch the first satellite by 2025, with the constellation completed by 2028.

It is not stated how else this allocated money will be spent, since such a constellation of smallsats should not cost almost a billion dollars to build.

UAE’s Rashid lunar rover getting ready for November launch

The new colonial movement: Engineers have now delivered the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) first lunar rover, Rashid, to France for testing and preparation for its early November launch on a Falcon 9 rocket.

The 10-kilogram rover will now spend a few weeks in Toulouse for vibration and thermal vacuum testing, a series of final checks to ensure it can survive the extreme environment during a rocket launch and spaceflight. It will then be moved to Germany, so it can be integrated with a Japanese lander, called Hakuto-R Mission 1, built by private company ispace inc, which will deliver the rover to the lunar surface.

Once completed, it will be shipped to the launch site in Florida’s Kennedy Space Centre in September.

Unlike the UAE’s Al-Amal Mars orbiter — which was mostly built in the U.S. by American companies and universities as part of a training program for UAE citizens, Rashid appears to have largely built in the UAE by those engineers.

Axiom signs deal with the UAE to fly one astronaut to ISS in ’23

Capitalism in space: Axiom announced today that it has signed an agreement with the United Arab Emirate (UAE) to fly a UAE astronaut to ISS in ’23 for a six month mission.

Axiom was able to put its own passenger on this flight because of a complex deal with NASA that had Axiom act as the go-between for Mark Vande Hei’s launch on a Soyuz in April ’21. Axiom brought the flight for NASA (which didn’t have the funds), and got in exchange a free seat for a passenger on a later American launch. Axiom has now sold that seat to the UAE.

The UAE in turn solidifies its space effort, with a six month manned mission to ISS.

The deal also demonstrates the priceless value of leaving ownership to American companies. Axiom made this deal to sell globally its long term space station plans, and it will use a SpaceX Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 rocket to launch it. Both companies thus make money on their products, instead of the cash going to NASA. Such profits will only encourage further sales, not only to these companies but to other competing American rocket and space station companies.

Ispace secures first insurance deal for private lunar lander

Capitalism in space: The Japanese startup Ispace has now obtained the first insurance plan ever for a private lunar lander.

The startup has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance (MSI), a Tokyo-based firm that started working with Ispace in 2019, to insure its first attempt to send a lander to the moon later this year. The agreement outlines intentions to finalize terms for the insurance in the months leading up to Ispace’s Mission 1 (M1), which is currently slated to fly on a Falcon 9 rocket no earlier than the fourth quarter of 2022.

According to Ispace, the insurance would cover any damage the lander takes between separating from the rocket in a trans-lunar orbit (TLO) and touching down on the moon. As well as covering a failed landing, the insurance would guard against issues stemming from radiation exposure as the lander travels through the Van Allen belts to its destination.

The insurance does not cover the payloads Ispace’s lander will carry, including a rover from the United Arab Emirates.

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 wants to prioritize private enterprise for its space effort

Capitalism in space: According to officials of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) space agency, that nation is working to encourage the growth of a private space industry, funded initially using government money, in its effort to become a major world player in space.

“We’ve spent well over Dh1.5 billion ($408 million) on building capacity within the space industry over the last eight years and we’re more than doubling that over the next decade.”

Laws and regulations, including permits, which would allow interested companies to set up base in the UAE, are already available through a space law passed in 2019.

Companies would also have access to funding from a new initiative launched by the space agency, called Space Analytics and Solutions, which has a budget of Dh20 million. The programme aims to help start-ups build space-based applications that focus on food security, climate change, infrastructure and the oil and gas industry.

The space agency hopes that as these companies progress, they would become less reliant on government funding.

While the UAE’s Al-Amal Mars orbiter was mostly built and launched by foreign companies, it hopes its next major mission, to send an unmanned probe to seven asteroids, will be built almost entirely by companies run by UAE citizens, something they claim they have achieved with an upcoming smallsat Earth observation satellite.

The article also mentioned as an aside that the UAE has ended its 2019 agreement with Virgin Galactic to allow it to launch from the UAE. Instead, it is negotiating with Blue Origin “to set up spaceports.”

Global image of Mars from UAE’s Al-Amal orbiter

Mars as seen by Al-Amal in January 2022
Click for original image.

Cool image time! The United Arab Emirates (UAE) today released several new images taken by its Al-Amal Mars orbiter, showing the changing atmospheric conditions on Mars between September ’21 and January ’22.

The photo to the right, cropped and annotated by me, is the January image, showing the dust storm conditions that presently exist in the equatorial regions of Mars. The lighter puffy cloud-like features in the center of the image are a 1,500 mile wide dust storm centered on the equator. The white dot indicates the approximate spot where Perseverance sits in Jezero Crater, within that storm.

The previous Al-Amal image from September (available at the link) shows the whole Martian hemisphere with generally clear skies.

Below is a recent photo taken by Perseverance illustrating these dusty conditions.
» Read more

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

Oxygen variations in Martian atmosphere
Click for full graphic.

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.

UAE to raise private money to help refurbish Baikonur launchpad

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has struck a deal with both Russia and Kazakhstan to jointly work together to upgrade the oldest Soyuz launchpad at Baikonur, the one used to put Yuri Gagarin into orbit in 1961.

The most interesting aspect of the deal is its private investment component:

The modernisation of the spaceport involves reconstructing the site to allow for more launches, including commercial and human space flights to the International Space Station.

As part of the agreement, all three parties will bring investors forward to contribute towards the upgrade.

“The UAE space agency is not investing or facilitating as the government. We’re looking for private partners within the UAE to partake. There’s a lot of interest,” Mr Al Qasim said.

This suggests that in exchange for providing private capital, the UAE will obtain launching rights at Baikonur, available for its own privately-built rockets. None yet exist, but it is clear the UAE government is encouraging such activity.

SpaceIL issues contract for construction of Beresheet-2

SpaceIL, the nonprofit that designed Israel’s first lunar mission, Beresheet-1, has now contracted for the construction of Beresheet-2, which instead of being a single large lander will an orbiter and two small landers.

Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) was the prime contractor for Beresheet, the lander it built for the nonprofit organization SpaceIL, one of the competitors of the former Google Lunar X Prize. Beresheet attempted to land on the moon in April 2019, but its main engine shut down prematurely during its descent, causing the spacecraft to crash. A later analysis found that one of two inertial measurement units on the spacecraft shut down during its descent, and the process of restarting it caused resets in the lander’s avionics that caused the engine to shut down.

After some initial uncertainty about its future plans, SpaceIL is moving ahead with a Beresheet 2 mission, and will once again have IAI build the spacecraft.

The article at the link focuses on the new design of Beresheet-2 (two landers and an orbiter), but that is old news, announced back in December 2020. That IAI has begun work however means SpaceIL has obtained the cash to pay it, possibly from the Israeli-UAE deal that was announced on October 20th.

That October 20th announcement did not mention a transfer of funds or Beresheet-2, but when SpaceIL revealed its plans for Beresheet-2 in December 2020, the nonprofit also said it was seeking financial support from the UAE. I suspect that support has come through.

Israel & UAE sign deal to work together on space projects

The new colonial movement: This week Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) signed an agreement calling for them to work together on a variety of space projects.

Israel and the United Arab Emirates signed a historic deal regarding space missions, Ynet reported on Tuesday, which will include collaborating on the Israeli rocket ship “Beresheet 2” space project bound for the Moon.

As part of the agreement, the two nations will work together on data-based development and research from the Israeli-French satellite Venus, while students from the UAE will work with Israeli students on a new satellite tracking the Moon.

The lack of general excitement over this agreement is truly astonishing. Remember, just a few years ago no Arab nation could dare reveal any partnership or even direct communication with Israel, out of fear of the violent reaction throughout the Islamic world. Now, the UAE can sign a deal where its citizens will work side-by-side with Israelis on several different projects, and the world barely notices.

More than anything, this disinterest signals the importance of the Abraham Accords engineered by the Trump administration. Those agreements, disavowed by the Biden administration, made this partnership possible.

UAE to launch probe to asteroid belt

The new colonial movement: The United Arab Emirates (UAE) today announced that it is planning an unmanned probe to visit a number of asteroids in the asteroid belt.

The project targets a 2028 launch with a landing in 2033, a five-year journey in which the spacecraft will travel some 3.6 billion kilometers (2.2 billion miles). The spacecraft would need to slingshot first around Venus and then the Earth to gather enough speed to reach an asteroid some 560 million kilometers (350 million miles) away.

It appears they have not yet chosen their targets in the belt.

The big question will be how much of this project will be built in the UAE, and how much they will have to farm out to others. For their Al-Amal Mars orbiter, the satellite was mostly built by U.S. universities, as they trained UAE engineers, who now run the mission entire.

Atomic oxygen in Mars’ atmosphere, as seen by Al-Amal

Oxygen distribution on Mars

The UAE’s Al-Amal Mars orbiter on July 19, 2021 released a new spectroscopic image, showing the global distribution of atomic oxygen in the Martian upper atmosphere.

The Emirates Ultraviolet Spectrometer (EMUS) mapped the distribution of atomic oxygen in the planet’s upper atmosphere, showing a dense patch emerging from the nightside into the new day.

The photo to the right, cropped and reduced to post here, shows this.

Over the next two years, covering one single Martian year, Al-Amal will monitor the distribution of this oxygen to see how it fluctuations from season to season, as well as from day to day. Gather this information will help the theorists untangle the past atmospheric history of Mars.

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.

UAE hires Japanese company as partner for its ’22 lunar rover mission

Capitalism in space: The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has chosen the private Japanese company Ispace to provide the lander bringing its Rashid rover to the Moon in 2022.

ispace’s 240 kg lander is 2.3 meters tall and 2.6 meters wide. It will be launched by SpaceX, Elon Musk’s rocket company, on a Falcon 9 rocket. Once the iSpace lander is placed in the Earth’s orbit, it will travel to the moon on its own, land and unload the rover.

The lander will use solar panels for power, which will also allow the rover to communicate with Earth. It will also carry a solid-state battery made by NGK Spark Plug, which intends to examine its battery’s lunar performance.

This UAE project is similar but a step up from its Al-Amal Mars orbiter. In that case UAE used its money to have the orbiter mostly built by U.S. universities as they taught UAE’s students how to do it. In this case, UAE engineers appear to be building the rover itself, with the purchased help of others to provide the lander..

UAE picks two more astronauts

The new colonial movement: UAE has announced that it has chosen two more astronauts to raise its astronaut corp to four, one of whom has already flown to ISS.

The UAE government announced it picked Nora AlMatrooshi and Mohammad AlMulla from a pool of 4,305 applicants to join the country’s small astronaut corps. They join Hazzaa AlMansoori and Sultan AlNeyadi, the first Emirati astronauts selected in 2018.

AlMatrooshi is the first woman selected as an Emirati astronaut. A mechanical engineer, she has been working for the National Petroleum Construction Company in the UAE. AlMulla is a pilot and head of the training department of the Dubai Police’s Air Wing Centre.

Obviously, for an Islamic nation to pick a woman to be an astronaut is significant, and indicates the UAE’s commitment to moderating the more oppressive aspects of its religion.

As significant however is the fact that all four of these UAE astronauts are now undergoing training in the United States. Previously UAE’s astronauts trained in Russia. Though the UAE has not announced when its next manned flight will be, and has also said it wants to use both American and Russia spacecraft, the training in the U.S. strongly suggests the UAE wants to buy an American flight next time, most likely on a SpaceX Dragon capsule.

Al-Amal reaches science orbit

Cerberus Fossae, as seen by Al-Amal
Click for full image.

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
Click for full image.

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).

Saudi government considering Moon and Mars missions

The new colonial movement: The Saudi government has established a commission for developing its own space program, with missions to either the Moon or/and Mars under consideration.

According to the chairman, only a few weeks separate the Commission from launching an entire branch centered on boosting and encouraging investment in the space field.

…More so, Prince Sultan predicted that the Kingdom, in two years’ time, will finish assembling an integrated crew with international space agencies. The team is expected to mount space exploration missions to Mars and the Moon.

Their stated goal is to help diversify their economy as well as inspire their citizens. Their unstated goal is a need to compete with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which already has a successful Mars orbiter (built in partnership with the U.S.)

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.
» Read more

The new invasion of Mars begins next week!

In the next two weeks three spacecraft will arrive at Mars, including two orbiters and two rovers. This post is simply a heads up so that my readers will know what to expect and when to expect it.

First, we have the arrival in Mars orbit of the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) Hope orbiter on February 9th at 10:30 am (Eastern). The spacecraft was built in a partnership with U.S. universities and the UAE. Once in orbit it will focus on studying the Martian atmosphere.

Next will arrive China’s Tianwen-1 orbiter on February 10th. The exact time it will do its engine burn to enter orbit has not been announced, as far as I can tell. Once in orbit it will begin a four month reconnaissance of the landing site for its presently unnamed rover, which will descend to the surface in May.

Finally, on February 18th at 12:55 am (Pacific) the American rover Perseverance will land in Jezero Crater on Mars. Essentially an upgraded copy of the Curiosity rover, it will land in the same way, lowered by cables from its re-entry sky crane rocket above it. It will then spend years studying the geology of Mars, while also storing samples that a later mission can recover and return to Earth.

All in all February is going to be an exciting month for the exploration of Mars. Stay tuned for some cool stuff!

Beresheet-2 will have two landers instead of one

The new colonial movement: SpaceIL, the Israeli non-profit company that built the failed Beresheet-1 lunar lander, yesterday announced its plans to build Beresheet-2, this time with an orbiter and two lunar landers, and launch it by ’24.

The two landers would be much smaller than the first spacecraft — about 260 pounds each, fully fueled, compared with a bit less than 1,300 pounds for Beresheet — and they would land on different parts of the moon. The orbiter would circle the moon for at least a couple of years. The three spacecraft of Beresheet 2 would together weigh about 1,400 pounds.

Even though the designs would be new, they would reuse many aspects of Beresheet, and the founders said they had learned lessons that would increase the chances of success for the second attempt. SpaceIL will again collaborate with Israel Aerospace Industries, a large satellite manufacturer.

SpaceIL is looking for funding from both private and Israeli government sources. It is also looking for funds from other nations, a decision which revealed the most intriguing part of this announcement:

SpaceIL hopes that international partnerships will pay for half of the cost of Beresheet 2. Mr. Damari said the United Arab Emirates, a small but wealthy country in the Persian Gulf that has set up an ambitious space program in recent years, was one of seven nations interested in taking part. He declined to name the other six.

If this flight ends up to be a partnership between Israel and the United Arab Emirates it will send shockwaves through the Arab world, most especially among the supporters of the terrorist leaders ruling the Palestinian territories.

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