The Union of Arab Emirates Space Agency has just announced that its spacecraft Al-Amal - "Hope" in English - will reach the atmosphere of Mars on February 9, 2021, at exactly 19:42 UAE time, 16:42 GMT.
UAE’s Hope Probe arrival to planet Mars has been calculated by the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre in Dubai, the institution responsible for monitoring and supervising its navigation throughout the cosmos.
Prior to this, the team of technicians from the Centre had successfully carried out the third scheduled correction of the spacecraft's trajectory, which took place on November 8. The adjustment was carried out by means of a sequence of remote controls sent through the large satellite dishes of NASA's Deep Space Network, one of whose three stations is the Spanish one at Robledo de Chávela, 60 kilometres from Madrid.
If Al-Amal's insertion into Mars' orbit is carried out correctly, the Emirates will become the fifth nation to reach the Red Planet and the first Arab country to do so. For Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, "our nation does not have the word impossible in its dictionary and our leadership will not settle for anything less than the first place.”
The success of the mission will serve to show the world that UAE authorities intend to make their country a space reference for the Arab world and on a global scale. It also seeks to diversify the national economy and reorient the youth of the country towards science studies.
Al-Amal's entry into the orbit of the Red Planet will mark the official start of the events commemorating the 50th anniversary of the UAE's creation. Founded in December 1971, the country is made up of the emirates of Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujaira, Ras al-Khaimah, Sarghas and Umm al-Qaywayn, which together cover 83,000 square kilometres, somewhat less than the Autonomous Community of Andalusia.
The interplanetary race involving the Emirates, China and the United States since July has already completed over 290 million kilometres through space and the whole pack is less than halfway to its goal on the Red Planet.
The three mills are different, especially Al-Amal, who is much smaller and lighter than the two travelling companions behind it. Weighing 1,350 kilos, its mission is to study the planet's atmosphere and it does not house a descent module or an exploration vehicle.
Navigating the cosmos for more than 110 days, Al-Amal from the Emirates, Tianwen-1 from China and Mars 2020 from the United States have already made most of their planned trajectory adjustments and are now describing a direct route to our neighbouring planet.
The race of the three Martian robotic probes is led by the UAE's Al-Amal, which took off from Japan on July 19. It is followed by Tianwen-1, which rose into space on July 23 from the Wenchang space centre on Hainan island, 2,700 km south of Beijing. Closing the pack is America's Mars 2020, which was launched into space on July 30 from Cape Canaveral, in the US state of Florida.
They will all arrive in February 2021
Chinese Tianwen-1 and NASA's Mars 2020 will arrive later than the Arabian probe, but in February next year. China's National Space Administration has not announced a specific date when its 4.9 tonne spacecraft will reach Mars. But it is likely that it will take place just a few days after Al-Amal, between February 11 and 14.
The Chinese space agency has announced through the mission's chief designer, Professor Rongqiao Zhang, that Tianwen-1 will remain for "two or three months around the planet". Its mission during this period of time will be to examine the different pre-selected sites for exploring the planet.
The region of Utopia Planitia, a vast plain in the northern hemisphere of Mars, is known to be where the American Viking 2 probe descended in September 1976. Once the most suitable area for the 1.3 tonne lander has been located, the orbiter will be released on an as yet undetermined date in May.
Tianwen-1 carries a small all-terrain vehicle of 2 x 1.65 x 0.8 metres, weighing 240 kilos and equipped with six driving wheels. The data it obtains will be transmitted to the Tianwen-1 orbiter, which will forward them to the large 70-metre antenna located in the city of Tianjin, the largest in all of Asia with the capacity to capture communications from deep space.
US Mars 2020 probe has a mass of 4.15 tons, containing the descent stage, which will deposit the sophisticated 1-ton Perseverance all-terrain vehicle on the Martian soil. NASA's fifth Martian rover is packed with cameras (23), scientific instruments (7), microphones (2) and an advanced Spanish weather station, whose mission is to search for biomarkers in the Jezero crater and determine whether liquid water existed on its surface in the remote past and whether the planet was habitable.