UAE launches its first mission to Mars

United Arab Emirates successfully launches its first mission to Mars

A screen broadcasting the launch the UAE's first mission to Mars at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre in Dubai. | Giuseppe Cacace AFP

Mission Hope - or the Hope Probe - isn't just the United Arab Emirates' (UAE) first bout in interplanetary space exploration, it also kicks off the first of three missions that are headed to the Red Planet this summer. The spacecraft will gather data on Mars' climate and weather, it is hoped it can further our understanding of how Mars lost much of its air and water.

Omran Sharaf, the project director of Emirates Mars Mission, told journalists in Dubai about an hour and a half after the liftoff that the probe was sending signals.

On Sunday, the UAE launched the Arab world's first mission to Mars.

The probe will launch on a Mitsubishi H-IIA booster.

The UAE sees this home-grown mission as a way of fostering scientific and technical expertise in the country and in the Middle East as a whole.

The previous three were all Earth-observation satellites.

A successful Hope mission to Mars would be a major step for the oil-dependent economy seeking a future in space, coming less than a year after the launch of the first UAE astronaut, Hazzaa Ali Almansoori. "It's a showcase for how space exploration has become an increasingly worldwide endeavor".

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The state broadcaster France 24 noted "Les Émirats arabes unis ont lancé avec succès leur première sonde vers Mars" [United Arab Emirates successfully launched its first probe to Mars], and "Almost an hour after take-off, applause resounded in the Japanese control room when the probe separated".

Seeing the probe blasting off was "an indescribable feeling", said Sarah Al-Amiri, the UAE Mars mission's deputy project manager.

The £160m mission is aimed at providing a picture of the Martian atmosphere and studying daily and seasonal changes on the planet.

Asked about the mission directly heading towards Mars without going to the moon which is the usual route for most interplanetary space missions, he said: "Our leadership set an ambitious goal for the mission, in a clear drive to take the team at the MBRSC out of our comfort zone and set a challenge beyond the accepted, beyond the ordinary".

The H2A rocket carrying the Hope explorer lifted off at 6:58 a.m. from Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima Prefecture, southwestern Japan.

Unlike the other two Mars missions slated to launch this year - Tianwen-1 from China and Mars 2020 from The US - Mission Hope has no intentions of landing on the Red Planet. The U.S. plans to send a rover named Perseverance to search for signs of ancient life and collect rock and soil samples for return to Earth. After a handful of delays, the mission was pushed back from its original July launch window to no earlier than the very end of the month.

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