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Emirates to broadcast commentary on arrival of Mars probe

Feb. 9 (UPI) — A United Arab Emirates spacecraft, the Mars orbiter Hope, is scheduled to enter orbit around the Red Planet about 10:30 a.m. EST Tuesday.

The probe will be the first since NASA’s Insight lander in November 2018 to reach the planet. Hope (or Al Amal in Arabic) will study the Martian atmosphere for at least two years.


But first, it must fire thrusters for 27 minutes to achieve its intended orbit, as teams of scientists and space enthusiasts around the world await word on its fate.

“It’s going to be incredible. I mean, this is the moment, especially, that the engineers have been working toward for six years,” Pete Withnell, a program manager for the Hope mission at the University of Colorado Boulder, said Friday.

“To see it unfold will be a momentous occasion for us,” Withnell said.

The UAE Space Agency plans a live broadcast from Dubai starting at 10 a.m. EST, with commentary in Arabic followed by an English translation.

The UAE mission also starts an unprecedented year of Mars exploration, as China’s Tianwen-1 orbiter and rover is due to arrive at Mars on Wednesday, followed by NASA’s Perseverance rover Feb. 18.

All three spacecraft have advanced robotics technology because there’s an 11-minute delay in communication signals between Earth and Mars, Withnell said.

“By the time we get an indication that the thrusters have fired, it will be 11 minutes into the 27-minute burn, so there is no time for us to correct any problems,” he said.

After the maneuver, or orbital insertion, minor corrections can be made, Withnell said.

Hope, Tianwen-1 and Perseverance all were launched in July on a seven-month journey as Mars and Earth were nearing their closest approach in orbit around the Sun.

Once the Hope probe is in orbit, scientists in the Emirates and elsewhere are eager to receive data about the atmosphere from the spacecraft’s imaging equipment, said Sarah Al Amiri, minister of advanced sciences for the UAE.

“The first reason we chose this mission was to develop the capabilities of a team of technology developers and engineers rapidly and teach them how to take on large risks,” Al Amiri said.

A mission to Mars, rather than the moon or inti Earth orbit, required tackling extremely complex physics of orbital mechanics, she said.

The UAE is eager to contribute to the global understanding of Mars, and to develop interplanetary sciences as a result of the mission, Al Amiri said.

“So there are several reasons that Mars was the sweet spot, the right destination for all of this to happen,” she said.

According to Al Amiri, the UAE government has declared that the Hope mission has met 90 percent of its goals, mostly because such a team of experts was able to build the craft, launch it and get it near Mars.

“But of course, for me, I am eager to begin the science part of the mission, which is the overall goal,” she said.

Hope will orbit the entire planet at different locations to gather the most comprehensive picture of Mars weather — especially during changes of seasons. The spacecraft will build on data gathered by NASA’s 2014 orbiter, MAVEN, which analyzed portions of Mars’ upper atmosphere.

MAVEN determined that Mars had lost large amounts of its atmosphere over thousands of years, a phenomenon that Hope may explain further, according to NASA and the UAE Space Agency.

Such data may reveal “any indication of what the Mars atmosphere was once like what it will be like in the future,” astrophysicist and science communicator Neil deGrasse Tyson said in a video posted to Twitter recently by the agency.

Exploration of Mars through history

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket lifts off at 7:50 a.m. July 30 from Complex 41 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. On board are NASA’s Perseverance rover and Ingenuity, a helicopter designed to fly on the Red Planet. They are expected to arrive on Mars in February. Photo by Joel Kowsky/NASA | License Photo

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