A robotic probe owned by the United Arab Emirates is preparing to jump into Mars orbit on Tuesday after launching from Earth last year. For mission managers in Dubai, it’s a nerve-racking climax in the UAE’s first mission to deep space. If successful, the Hope probe will survey the Martian atmosphere. The Emirati cabinet hopes the mission will also inspire a new science and technology sector as the Gulf state looks to wean its economy from oil dependence.
The Hope probe launched from Japan’s Tanegashima Space Center last July as Earth and Mars aligned in their orbits around the Sun. Now, having traveled over 300 million miles, Hope is set to carry out an intricate and fully autonomous maneuver called a Mars Orbit Insertion (MOI) at 10:30AM ET. Mission control in Dubai won’t know if the MOI has begun until 10:42AM ET because of a 22-minute roundtrip communications delay through NASA’s Deep Space Network. Manual, real-time control is impossible, so Hope will need to carry out these orbital dances on its own.
“We’ve thought of every single scenario that may go right or wrong”
The MOI requires Hope to slow its cruising speed of 75,000 mph down to 11,000 mph in order to get swept up in Mars’ gravity. It will hit the brakes by firing all six of its Delta-V thrusters for 27 minutes. That should put the spacecraft into a “capture orbit” around the Red Planet. Five minutes later, mission managers will lose contact with Hope as it flies around the far side of Mars, cutting off radio signals for about 15 minutes.
“It’s been rehearsed enough times, we’ve thought of every single scenario that may go right or wrong, and that has been programmed into the commanding sequence,” Sarah al-Amiri, the deputy project manager for the Emirates Mars Mission, told The Verge.
Hope’s mission team of roughly 450 people has been designing and testing the Hope spacecraft over the past six years in preparation for this mission. If all goes well, the Hope mission will make UAE the fifth spacefaring power to reach Mars after the United States, former Soviet Union programs, European Space Agency, and India.
Over the next two months, Hope will carry out a few more maneuvers to jump into a closer orbit around Mars. This will be key for carrying out its main objective: scanning the Martian atmosphere and capturing a global snapshot of the planet’s weather patterns. Hope will orbit Mars every 55 hours and capture a complete snapshot every nine days.
The Emirates Mars Mission’s Twitter account will be tweeting updates throughout the mission. The UAE Space Agency will also host a live feed of mission control in Dubai starting at 10AM ET before the maneuver begins at 10:30AM ET. Tune in then to see if UAE nails its first interplanetary mission.
Update February 9th, 9:13AM ET: This post has been updated with a new start time for the UAE live stream.