UAE is celebrating one year since the Hope Probe successfully entered Mars’ orbit, a milestone in the annals of history. The first anniversary marks exactly one year since Emirates Mars Mission’s spacecraft reached the Red Planet, becoming world’s fifth country to achieve the feat and the first in the Arab world.
Hope Probe’s entry into the Mars orbit coincided with the UAE celebrating its Golden Jubilee in 2021. This marked the perfect start for the next 50 years of growth, progress and sustainable development, laying the foundations for a knowledge-based economy of the future.
On 9 February, 2021, at exactly 19:42, Hope Probe successfully entered the Red Planet’s orbit, completing some of the most difficult stages of its mission. Its 493-million-kilometer journey through space to Mars took almost seven and years of diligent and dedicated preparation.
This success was a major milestone in the UAE’s accelerated development process, a crowning glory in the country’s celebrations of the Golden Jubilee, a summary of its inspiring journey as a country that has made the pursuit of the impossible a norm and committed to creating an indelible legacy on Earth.
With the successful arrival of Hope Probe last year, the UAE became the first among three space missions that reached Mars during February 2021 – the other two being the United States and China. It is now carrying out a crucial scientific mission to share an unprecedented data on the planet’s atmosphere with the world.
One year ago today, the ground control station at the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) at Al Khawaneej, Dubai, was the center stage and the focus of the world’s attention, during which every manoeuvre was intricately followed and managed to guide the Hope Probe into orbit.
The historic mission was watched by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, and His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces.
Millions of people across the UAE, the wider region and the world watched the nail-biting mission which was broadcast live on TV, websites and social media. A major event was also organized in Dubai in the light of the iconic Burj Khalifa – which, along with the other main landmarks in the country and the Arab world were illuminated in red, to commemorate the occasion on the Red Planet.
Every movement, every manoeuvre, every milestone of Hope Probe’s arrival was captured and relayed, in the presence of international news agencies, representatives of the media, local and regional news sites, top officials and members of the Emirates Mars Mission project team.
Sharing of scientific data with the world
Since the first day of its arrival, Hope Probe has continued to provide the scientific community around the world with unprecedented scientific data. In the context of the UAE’s endeavour to play a role in the scientific progress of mankind, two batches of data have already been made available on the Emirates Mars Mission website to all scientists, researchers and those interested in space science.
The first batch of unprecedented scientific data was published in October 2021 and included images, information and observations collected from 9 February – 22 May, while the second batch was published in early January. Data will continue to be published every three months.
The scientific data published so far includes observations and data that no previous Mars exploration mission has achieved, in addition to unique images of the Red Planet that capture unprecedented observations about the behaviour of the Martian atmosphere and the interactions that occur within it.
On June 30, the Emirates Mars Mission Hope Probe project revealed the first images of its kind that fully and unprecedentedly monitor the phenomenon of ‘Discrete Aurora’ in the atmosphere of Mars at night using ‘extreme ultraviolet’ emissions.
These exceptional and unprecedented images contribute to enriching the knowledge of scientists and researchers in their studies of the interactions between solar radiation and the magnetic field of Mars and its atmosphere.
The observations captured by Hope Probe’s ultraviolet spectrometer – one of three advanced instruments on board – show significant differences in the abundances of both oxygen and carbon monoxide in Mars’ upper atmosphere.
These new discoveries confound perceptions around the distribution of ultraviolet light emitted from Mars’ upper atmosphere, providing a new and unique understanding of the Martian climate. It showed the presence of vast bodies of oxygen in abundance with levels that differ from what was anticipated and understood. It also indicated unusual atmospheric disturbances in the atmosphere.
The pictures were taken at a time when Mars in its orbit was close to the farthest point from the sun, amid low solar activity, with the picture showed the exceptional oxygen emissions at the wavelength of 130.4 nanometers (nm).
Also, these bodies in the images taken by the Hope Probe’s onboard instruments may be due to a negative light effect from radiation waves that the instruments are designed to reject, but a relatively uniform emission of oxygen at wavelength 130.4nm was observed across the planet, which contradicts the abundance of oxygen that was observed at levels 50% higher than expected.
Therefore, the scientific team is currently working on adjusting its atmospheric models in order to arrive at a better and consistent interpretation of these results.
Continuation of the scientific mission With the continuation of the Hope Probe’s scientific mission to explore Mars that began in May 2021 when the Probe entered the scientific orbit around the Red Planet, which allows it the best possible position from which to monitor and study the Martian atmosphere, the achievement of the scientific goals for which the ‘Hope Probe’ was launched also continues. The Probe’s scientific mission will continue until May 2023, with the possibility, if necessary, of extending it for a further Martian year ( approximately two Earth years).
To achieve the scientific goals of this historic space mission, the Hope Probe carries on board three instruments, capable of presenting a detailed picture of the Martian climate and the different layers of its atmosphere, giving the global scientific community a deeper understanding of the climatic changes witnessed on the Red Planet and the study of the causes behind the atmospheric erosion.
These devices – the digital exploration camera, infrared spectrometer, and ultraviolet spectrometer, monitor everything related to how the weather of Mars changes throughout the day, and between the seasons of the Martian year, in addition to studying the reasons for the waning of hydrogen and oxygen gases from the upper layers of the Martian atmosphere, which constitute the basic units for the formation of water molecules.
In addition, these devices investigate the relationship between Mars’ lower and upper atmospheric layers, observe atmospheric phenomena on the planet’s surface such as dust storms and temperature changes, as well as the diversity of climate patterns depending on Mars’ diverse terrain.
The Hope Probe has collected more than 1,000 gigabytes of new data about Mars which is stored in a scientific data centre in the UAE. The project’s scientific team catalogues and analyzes this data and makes it available to humanity for the first time, sharing it with the scientific community interested in Mars sciences around the world in service of humankind.
A story worth telling
The inspiring story of the Emirates Mars Mission project Hope Probe deserves to be told, as on the evening of February 9, 2021 the UAE entered history as the first Arab country to reach Mars, and the fifth country in the world to achieve this feat.
The decisive moments of the Probe entering the orbit around the Red Planet began at 19:42 UAE time, based on the programming processes that the mission team had previously conducted before its launch, starting its six engines for “Delta V” reverse thrusters to decelerate from 121,000 kilometers per hour to 18,000 kilometers per hour, using half of its onboard fuel, in a process that took 27 minutes.
The process of burning the fuel ended at 19:57 for the autonomous spacecraft to safely enter the orbit, and at 20:08 the ground station in Al Khawaneej received a signal from the Probe that it had successfully entered orbit, for the UAE to write its name in prominent letters in the history of space missions to explore the Red Planet.
The first day around Mars
With the success of the stage of entering the orbit, the Hope Probe began its first day around Mars, and the ground station team was able to communicate with the Probe to ensure that this stage, which was the most precise and intricate stage of the space mission, did not affect the Probe, its subsystems or the scientific devices it carries.
Moving to the scientific orbit
After confirming the efficiency of the Probe, its sub-systems and scientific devices, the project team began implementing the next stage of its journey, which was the transition to the scientific orbit through a set of operations to direct the Probe’s path to safely transport it to this orbit using more of the fuel onboard the probe.
This was followed by carefully monitoring the Probe’s position to ensure that it was in the correct orbit, after which comprehensive calibrations of the Probe systems (original and sub-systems), similar to those that the team had conducted after the launch of the Probe into space on 20 July, 2020. Each system calibrated separately, noting that each communication process with the Probe at this stage took between 11 and 22 minutes due to the distance between the Earth and Mars.
After all these operations were completed, the final stage of the Probe’s journey began, namely the scientific stage that began in May 2021, as the Hope Probe provided the first complete picture of the climate of Mars and the weather conditions on its surface throughout the day and across the seasons of the year, which actually made it the Red Planet’s first aerial observatory.
An idea that becomes a historic achievement
The journey of the Emirates Mars Mission Hope Probe actually began as an idea about nine years ago, through an exceptional ministerial retreat convened by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum on Sir Bani Yas Island in 2013, when His Highness led a brainstorming session with the Cabinet members and a number of officials.
During this session, he reviewed ideas to mark the celebration for the formation of the United Arab Emirates. On that day the retreat adopted the idea of sending a mission to explore Mars, both as an ambitious project and as an Emirati contribution to the scientific progress of mankind in an unprecedented manner.
The Emirates Mars Mission – Hope Probe was announced by UAE’s President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan and His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, on 16 July 2014. EMM was initiated to disrupt and accelerate the development of the UAE’s space, education, science and technologies sectors.
The Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center was assigned by the UAE government to manage, develop, and execute all phases of the program, while the UAE Space Agency is charged with the general supervision of the mission.
Over the course of more than six years from design, implementation and development, the project witnessed numerous challenges, the overcoming of which constituted an added value to the entire mission.
The first of these challenges was the completion of this historic national mission to design and develop the Probe within six years, so that its arrival would coincide with the country’s celebrations of its 50th National Day, whereas similar space missions typically take 10 to 12 years to implement.
The Hope Probe team of national cadres succeeded in this challenge with high efficiency, taking the unlimited support of the wise leadership as an additional incentive that pushed them to do more.
And new challenge that surfaced was the means of transferring the Probe to its launch station in Japan amidst the global outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, which had led to the closure of airports and ports around the world. With restrictions on movement and lockdowns in countries as part of precautionary measures to combat the spread of the virus, the team faced additional challenges.
The core mission team had to develop alternative plans to transport the Probe on time in light of this emerging challenge, so that it would be ready for launch at the predetermined time in mid-July 2020. It was here that the team recorded a new achievement in the process of overcoming challenges. It succeeded in transferring the Probe to the Japanese station of Tanegashima, in a journey that took more than 83 hours by land, air and sea, and passed through three main stages, during which careful logistical measures and procedures were adhered to ensure that the Probe reached its final pre-launch destination in perfect condition.
Reschedule the launch
Then came the decisive moment that the team has been eagerly waiting over six years of diligent work, namely the moment of the launch, which was set at 01:00 on the morning of 15 July, 2020, UAE time.
However, the series of challenges continued, with weather conditions not being conducive to the launch of the rocket that would carry the Probe. The team had to reschedule the launch date within the ‘launch window’ that extended from July 15 to August 3, 2020 – bearing in mind that a failure to complete the launch during this period would have meant postponing the entire mission by two years.
After careful studies of weather forecasts in cooperation with the Japanese counterparts, the mission team decided to launch the ‘Hope Probe’ on 20 July , 2020, at 01:58 UAE time.
For the first time in the history of space missions for space exploration, the countdown to mark the launch of the Hope Probe was echoed in Arabic, while hundreds of millions from the country, the region and the world followed the event.
Everyone held their breath as they waited during the decisive moments as the rocket ascended, penetrating the Earth’s atmosphere at a speed of 34,000 kilometers per hour while carrying the Hope Probe. Minutes later, the success of the launch was confirmed.
The Probe then separated from the launch rocket successfully, and the first signal was received of its seven-month journey, during which it covered more than 493 million kilometers. The Probe also received the first signal from the ground control station in Al Khawaneej in Dubai to open its solar panels, operate the space navigation systems, and launch the reverse thrust systems, thus effectively marking the beginning of the Probe’s journey to the Red Planet.
Stages of flight in space
After the successful launch , the Hope Probe then moved to the second stage of its journey, known as the Early Operations Phase, in which a series of pre-prepared commands began operating the Probe. These operations included activating the central computer, operating the thermal control system, opening the solar panels, and using sensors designed to locate the sun, then manoeuvring to adjust the position of the probe and directing the panels toward the sun in order to start charging the onboard batteries.
Immediately after the previous operations ended, the Hope Probe began to send a series of data, which was the first signal to reach the planet. This signal was picked up by the Deep Space Monitoring Network, in particular the station located in the Spanish capital, Madrid.
Directing the Probe’s path
As soon as the ground station in Dubai received this signal, the work team began conducting a series of checks to ensure the Probe’s safety that lasted for 45 days, during which the Probe’s operations and engineering teams examined all the devices to ensure that the systems and equipment on board the Probe were working efficiently.
At this point, the Hope Probe team was able to begin directing the Probe so it would be on the best path toward the Red Planet, and successfully carried out the first and second manoeuvres on 11 August and 28 August, 2020, respectively.
After the successful completion of the two routing manoeuvres, the third stage of the ‘Hope Probe’ journey began through a series of regular operations, with the team communication with the Probe through the ground control station two to three times a week, each of which lasted between six to eight hours.
On 8 November, 2020, the Hope Probe team successfully completed the third routing manoeuvre, after which the date of the Probe’s arrival in the Mars orbit was determined on 9 February, 2021.
During this stage, the core mission team also operated the scientific instruments for the first time in space, checked and adjusted them by directing them toward the stars to ensure the integrity of their alignment angles, and to ensure that they were ready to work once they reached Mars. At the end of this stage, the ‘Hope Probe’ approached Mars to begin the most important stages of its historic mission to explore the Red Planet, which is the stage of entering the orbit of Mars.
The hardest minutes
The stage of entering the orbit of Mars, which took 27 minutes before the Probe successfully reached its specified orbit around the Red Planet, was one of the most difficult and intricate, known as ‘blind minutes’, as it was controlled automatically without any interference from the ground station. Throughout this time the Probe was autonomous.
At this stage, the core mission team focused on safely inserting the ‘Hope Probe’ into the orbit around Mars, and in order to successfully complete this mission, half of the fuel in the Probe’s tanks was burned to slow it down to the extent that it could entered into the orbit, and the burning process of fuel continued using reverse thrust (Delta V) engines for 27 minutes to reduce the Probe’s speed from 121,000 kilometers/h to 18,000 kilometers per hour.
Due to the precision required for the operation, the control commands for this phase were developed through a deep study from the team that identified all possible scenarios that could occur in addition to al improvement plans to have orders ready for this critical moment.
After the success of this stage, the Probe entered its initial elliptical orbit, in which one revolution around the planet took 40 hours, and the altitude of the Probe while it is in this orbit will range between 1,000 kilometers and 49,380 kilometres above the surface of Mars. The Probe will remain in this orbit for several weeks to re-examine and test all on board sub-systems before moving on to the science stage.
Currently, the Hope Probe, during the scientific stage, is on an elliptical orbit around Mars at an altitude ranging between 20,000 kilometres and 43,000 kilometres and takes 55 hours to complete a full orbit around Mars. The orbit chosen by the Hope Probe team is very innovative and unique and will allow the Probe to provide the scientific community with the first complete picture of the atmosphere and weather of Mars in over an entire year.
The number of times the ‘Hope Probe’ communicates with the ground station is limited to only twice a week, and the duration of one contact ranges between six to eight hours. This stage will extend until May 2023, during which time the Probe will continue sending large sets of scientific data on the Martian atmosphere and its dynamics which will be provided to the scientific community through the Scientific Data Center of the Emirates Mars Mission project.
Bright milestones on the Probe’s journey
The journey of the ‘Hope Probe’, since it reached the orbit around Mars on 9 February, 2021, included a number of notable milestones, which can be summarised in the following:
On 14 February, 2021, the first image taken by the ‘Hope Probe’ was published while it was in the orbit of Mars, marking the beginning of the stage of collecting 1,000 gigabytes of new data on Mars.
Millions of people in the UAE, the Arab world and the world passionately viewed this image, which will be immortalised in the history books as the first pictures taken by an Arab probe that reached the farthest point in the universe, and the first picture of Mars with modern and innovative scientific devices managed and operated by Emirati Arab national specialists within the Hope Probe mission that provides information, data and images about the atmosphere of Mars.
The reception and publication of the first image of the Red Planet by the team of the Emirates Mars Mission Hope Probe was evidence of the efficiency and quality of the probe, its sub-systems and scientific devices, and the smooth and effective communication with the control centre in Al Khawaneej area in Dubai, which confirms that the Probe’s mission is proceeding based on the established and studied plans.
The image taken at sunrise shows the ‘Olympus Munis’ volcano – the largest volcano on Mars and the largest known volcano in the solar system. In the upper left part of the image, which was taken at an altitude of about 25,000 kilometers above the surface of Mars, appears the Red Planet’s north pole, while ‘Olympus Munis’ can be seen in the centre of the image with the emergence of sunlight.
The image also clearly shows the three volcanoes close Mars’ equator, namely the summit of Ascarios, the summit of Pavonis, and the summit of Arcia.
On April 14, 2021, the ‘Hope Probe’ succeeded in moving from the capture orbit to its scientific orbit, through a set of manoeuvres in which the Probe’s engines were running for 510 seconds. After this success, the ‘Hope Probe’ is now in its final orbit around Mars, ready to achieve the main goal of the mission by collecting scientific data for two years, during which the Probe will follow an elliptical orbit around Mars at an altitude ranging between 20,000 kilometers and 43,000 kilometers and take 55 hours to complete each complete revolution around Mars.
Start of the scientific mission
On May 23, 2021, the Emirates Mars Mission Hope Probe project, announced the completion of the necessary preparations to start the Probe’s scientific mission after conducting the necessary tests to ensure the accuracy and safety of the scientific devices it carries on board, which proved that the performance of these devices exceeds expectations.
The scientific mission of the ‘Hope Probe’ was officially launched on the same day and will last for two years, with the goal of obtaining the first complete picture of the various layers of the Martian atmosphere during the day, night and through all seasons of the Martian year, which is equivalent to two Earth years.
This step came after the three scientific devices carried by the Probe had been successfully activated on 10 April, 2021, i.e. before the predetermined date, to be followed by the calibration and testing phase. During the calibration and testing operations, the project team found that the performance and accuracy of these devices have so far exceeded expectations.
The EXI digital exploration camera carried by the Probe has captured more than 500 images of Mars since the probe moved to the scientific orbit in early April 2021. The camera is now focused on mapping the clouds of icy water in the Martian atmosphere, coinciding with the Red Planet’s entry into the “cloudy season,” as a belt of clouds are present near the equator.
The Hope Probe has a unique view of these clouds through its advantageous position and ability to observe the changing dynamics of the atmosphere during daily and seasonal cycles.
As for the EMIRS infrared spectrometer, since the Hope Probe entered the orbit of Mars, the scale on board the Probe has worked to collect explanatory scientific data, to correctly calibrate the scale, and to process the data that is collected routinely and periodically.
The scale has collected more than 130,000 spectral images in total since its arrival on Mars and provided the team with more than 40 previously planned explanatory scientific observations, covering a large part of the day on Mars.
It monitors by means of infrared beams Mars’ surface temperature, atmospheric temperature, optical depth of dust, ice clouds, and amount of atmospheric water vapour over the course of a Martian day and on sub-seasonal time scales.
These data, along with those of the UV spectrometer and digital reconnaissance camera, provide an unprecedented and detailed view of the Martian climate and explain the erosion processes of the Red Planet’s atmosphere.
As for the EMUS ultraviolet spectrometer, since the arrival of the Hope Probe in Mars’ orbit, it has been able to collect important scientific data, which are about 14,000 spatial spectroscopic images of the atmosphere, equivalent to 1.6 million individual spectra. The initial operation of four different types of scientific operations by this device showed that it works perfectly and accurately tracks the targets in its field of vision.
The scale will continue to collect these scientific observations throughout the scientific stage to help in understanding the composition and structure of Mars’ upper atmosphere and its changes during the different seasons.
The Hope Probe is currently traveling in its planned scientific orbit around Mars between 19,974 kilometers and 42,651 kilometers from the surface, and at an angle of 25 degrees.