Al-Amal: UAE targets ambitious goals in first Arab mission to Mars

The United Arab Emirates, made up of seven members including Dubai and Abu Dhabi, has 12 satellites in orbit, with plans to launch several more in coming years.

Al-Amal flows

The first Arab interplanetary mission reached Mars' orbit Tuesday in the most critical stage of its journey to unravel the secrets of weather on the Red Planet.

The unmanned probe -- named "Al-Amal", Arabic for "Hope" -- blasted off from Japan last year, the latest step in the UAE's ambitious space programme.

The oil-rich nation's project  draws inspiration from the Middle East's golden age of cultural and scientific achievements.


First Arab to visit the International Space Station

The United Arab Emirates, made up of seven members including Dubai and Abu Dhabi, has 12 satellites in orbit, with plans to launch several more in coming years.

In September 2019, it sent the first Emirati into space, Hazza al-Mansouri, who was part of a three-member crew. They blasted off from Kazakhstan, returning home after an eight-day mission in which he became the first Arab to visit the International Space Station.


UAE's ambitious plans

UAE's ambitions go much further, with a goal of building a human settlement on Mars by 2117.

In the meantime, it plans to create a white-domed "Science City" in the deserts outside Dubai to simulate Martian conditions and develop the technology needed to colonise the planet.

The UAE has plans to launch an unmanned rover to the moon by 2024 and is also eyeing future mining projects beyond Earth, as well as space tourism.


First Emirati in space in 2019

The UAE first announced plans for the mission in 2014 and launched a National Space Programme in 2017 to develop local expertise. Its population of 9.4 million, most of whom are foreign workers, lacks the scientific and industrial base of the big spacefaring nations.

Hazza al-Mansouri became the first Emirati in space in 2019 when he flew to the International Space Station.

To develop and build the Hope Probe, Emiratis and Dubai's Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) worked with U.S. educational institutions.


Branson connection

It has signed a memorandum of understanding with Richard Branson's space tourism company Virgin Galactic and announced the creation of a "space court" to settle commercial disputes relating to space industries.

The "Hope" probe lifted off from Japan's Tanegashima Space Center on July 20 last year.

The 1,350-kilogramme (2,970-pound) probe -- about the size of an SUV -- took seven months to travel the 493 million kilometres (307 million miles) to Mars.


Infrared spectrometer

Unlike the other two Mars ventures also this month, the Tianwen-1 from China and Mars 2020 from the United States, the UAE's probe will not land on the Red Planet.

Three instruments mounted on the Hope probe will provide a picture of the planet's atmosphere throughout the Martian year -- 687 days.

The first is an infrared spectrometer to measure the lower atmosphere and analyse the temperature structure.


Heyday of scientific advances

The second is a high-resolution imager that will also provide information about ozone levels. And the third, an ultraviolet spectrometer, is to measure oxygen and hydrogen levels from a distance of up to 43,000 kilometres from the surface.

Studying the atmospheres of other planets will allow for a better understanding of the Earth's climate, officials say, and pave the way for scientific breakthroughs.

But the project is also designed to inspire a region too often beset by turmoil, and recall its heyday of scientific advances during the Middle Ages.


'UAE wanted to send a strong message to the Arab youth'

"The UAE wanted to send a strong message to the Arab youth and to remind them of the past, that we used to be generators of knowledge," Omran Sharaf, the mission's project manager, told AFP.

The mission makes the UAE the fifth nation to ever reach Mars, and is timed to mark the 50th anniversary of the country's unification.


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