DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — A spacecraft in the United Arab Emirates swung into orbit around Mars on Tuesday at a triumph for the Arab world’s first interplanetary mission.
Ground controllers at the UAE’s space centre in Dubai climbed to their feet and broke into applause when word arrived that the craft, known as Amal, Arabic for Hope, had reached the end of its seven-month, 300-million-mile journey and had started circling the red planet, where it will collect comprehensive data on Mars’ atmosphere.
The orbiter fired its main engines for 27 minutes in an intricate, high-stakes maneuver that slowed the craft sufficient for it to be captured by Mars’ gravity. It took a nail-biting 11 minutes to the sign confirming success to achieve Earth.
Tensions were high: Over the years, Mars has been the graveyard for plenty of missions from various countries.
A visibly relieved Omran Sharaf, the mission’s director, declared,”To the people of the UAE and Arab and Islamic nations, we declare the achievement of the UAE reaching Mars.”
Two more unmanned spacecraft from the U.S. and China are following close behind, place to arrive in Mars during the next several days. All three missions have been launched in July to take advantage of the close proximity of Earth and Mars.
Amal’s arrival puts the UAE at a league of just five area agencies in history which have pulled off a working Mars mission. As the country’s first venture outside Earth’s orbit, the flight is a point of extreme pride to the oil-rich nation as it seeks a long time in distance.
An ebullient Mohammed bin Zayed, the UAE’s daily ruler, was on hand at mission control and said”Congratulations to the direction and people of the UAE. … Your joy is indescribable.”
About 60 percent of all Mars missions have ended in failure, crashing, burning up or otherwise falling short in a nod to the sophistication of interplanetary travel and the problem of making a descent through Mars’ thin atmosphere.
A mix orbiter and lander in China is scheduled to reach Earth on Wednesday. It will circle Mars before the rover separates and tries to property in May to look for signs of ancient life.
It will be the first leg at a decade-long U.S.-European endeavor to bring Mars rocks back to Earth to be examined for evidence the planet once harbored vegetation.
If it pulls this off, China is now only the second country to land on Mars. The U.S. has done it eight times, the initial nearly 45 years back.
For months, Amal’s journey had been monitored by the UAE’s social media with rapturous enthusiasm. Landmarks throughout the UAE, such as Burj Khalifa, the tallest tower on Earth, have appeared reddish to mark the spacecraft’s anticipated arrival. Billboards depicting Amal tower over Dubai’s highways. This year is the 50th anniversary of the nation’s heritage, casting even more focus on Amal.
If all goes as planned, Amal over the next two months will probably settle in an exceedingly large, elliptical orbit of 13,670 miles by 27,340 kilometers (22,000 kilometers by 44,000 kilometers), from which it will examine the mostly carbon dioxide air around the whole planet, at all times of day and at all seasons.
Amal needed to execute a series of turns and engine firings to move into orbit, reducing its rate to 11,200 miles (18,000 kph) from over 75,000 miles (121,000 kph).
The control room full of Emirati engineers held their breath as Amal disappeared behind Mars’ dark side. Subsequently it re-emerged from the world’s shadow, and contact has been revived on schedule. Screens in the space center revealed that Amal had managed to do what had eluded many missions over the years.
“Anything that marginally goes wrong and you lose the spacecraft,” said Sarah al-Amiri, minister of state for advanced technology and also the seat of the UAE’s space agency.
The success provides a huge boost to the UAE’s space ambitions. The country’s first astronaut rocketed to space in 2019, hitching a ride into the International Space Station together with the Russians. That’s 58 years following the Soviet Union and the U.S. launched astronauts.
We hope to join you at Mars shortly” with Perseverance.
In creating Amal, the UAE chose to collaborate with experienced partners rather than going it alone or purchasing the spacecraft elsewhere. Its engineers and scientists worked with researchers in the University of Colorado, the University of California at Berkeley and Arizona State University.
The spacecraft was assembled in Boulder, Colorado, prior to being sent to Japan for launching last July.
The car-size Amal cost $200 million to construct and launch; that excludes operating costs at Mars. The Chinese and U.S. expeditions are more complicated — and expensive — due to their rovers. NASA’s Perseverance assignment totals $3 billion.
The UAE, a federation of seven skeikhdoms, is looking for Amal to ignite the imaginations of the country’s scientists and its youth, and prepare for a future once the oil runs out.
“Nowadays you have households of every single age group enthusiastic about space, understanding a great deal of science,” explained al-Amiri, the chair of the area agency. “It has opened a wide range of possibilities for everyone in the UAE and I also hope, within the Arab world”