Mars Mission: UAE pushes the envelope of the Muslim Space Agencies

September 29th, 2017 | by MuslimScience
Mars Mission: UAE pushes the envelope of the Muslim Space Agencies

By: Mohammad Iftekhar Yezdani

As the search for knowledge and quests to explore yonder worlds stays part of human nature, Mars remains the first – and so far – biggest feat for space agencies around the world. The Muslim world is playing its part in this global challenge. UAE’s space agency is building up its mission ‘Al-Amal’ or Hope, which is planned to enter Mars’ orbit in the year 2021.

Ancient history of many cultures associated Mars with war and destruction due to its reddish appearance. In the Muslim world, Mars at times was an omen of triumph and divine blessing. In the 10th century, the Fatimid Caliphate captured Egypt and moved their royal seat to a newly named city ‘Al-Qahir’ or City of Mars (Fatimid dialect), presently known as Cairo. Astrological connotations were gradually refuted by Muslim astronomers and a scientific approach with empirical arguments gave birth to astronomy and space sciences of the modern world.[i]

The space race between US and USSR led to plethora of missions beyond Earth’s orbit. In the 1960s, Pakistan, primarily due to its location, became a region of major interest for NASA and SUPARCO, the first space agency in the Muslim World was born. Many other Muslim nations have since established space agencies and are playing their part in the global space sector such as LAPAN (Indonesia), ANGKASA (Malaysia), ISA (Iran), MAKA (Azerbaijan), NSSA (Bahrain), UzbekCosmos(Uzbekistan), KazCosmos (Kazakhastan), ASA (Algeria), TSA (Turkey), TNSA (Turkmenistan) and SPARRSO (Bangladesh). Other Muslim countries are also either in the phase of establishing a space agency or joining hands with another.

The UAE Space Agency is the latest entrant in this galaxy.  It is investing $5.44 billion and spearheading the space sector in the Muslim world with its ambitious unmanned mission to Mars. Marking UAE as the ninth country working to explore Mars, Hope, the first Islamic probe to Mars, is planned to start its journey from the Tanegashima Space Center, Japan on a Mitsubishi Heavy Industries H-IIA rocket in July 2020.

The Ruler of Dubai H.E Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum says, “this mission to Mars is really for the hope of the Arab world”.

According to H.E. Dr. Mohammad Al Ahbabi, Director General of UAE Space Agency, “Our vision is to launch space projects that will help the development of the UAE’s economy, support local, regional and international space study and technology and create exciting learning and career opportunities for our people.”

After launch, the probe will begin the seven to nine-month long journey.

Emirates mission to Mars is a science mission. The Emirati orbiter is aimed at providing an integrated model of the Red Planet’s atmosphere. Hope will be the first to study dynamic changes in Martian atmosphere throughout its daily and seasonal cycles. The space probe will be built from aluminum into a honeycomb-like compact structure weighing approximately 1,500 kg including fuel. It will collect planet-wide climate tracking because of its special orbit cycles. It is planned to orbit Mars till 2023 at least and may have an extended mission till 2025.

The mission will search for clues to better understand the ancient climate on Mars and today’s Martian weather. This will be done by tracking the escape of hydrogen and oxygen and their behavior as Mars loses its atmosphere to Space. With an onboard storage capacity of 20 GB, it will send back more than 1000 GB of invaluable data that will be made available for free to space specialists to study.

Hope is to be equipped with 600 watt solar panels for power, six 120-Newton Delta-V thrusters, eight 5-Newton Reaction Control System thrusters for navigation and control along with Star trackers for guidance and attitude correction. To stay in contact with Mission Control on Earth, a High-gain directional antenna producing narrow radio-wave will point at Earth. Once in orbit around Mars, the communication bandwidth may be as low as 250 kbps.

The scientific instruments to be carried by Hope include the Emirates eXploration Imager (EXI), Emirates Mars Ultraviolet Spectrometer (EMUS) and an Emirates Mars Infrared Spectrometer (EMIRS). The EXI will send back high-resolution color images and measure properties of water ice, dust aerosols and quantify ozone. The EMUS will measure the variability of the thermosphere and traces of oxygen and hydrogen coronae. The EMIRS will help examine temperature patterns and the thermal structure. It will also measure abundance of ice water vapor and dust in Martian atmosphere. [ii]

At approximately 54.6 million kilometers away from Earth with a communication delay of 13-20 minutes, Hope will have to maneuver into Mars’ orbit autonomously. Once in orbit, internal reaction wheels will be spun for attitude control and to point its solar panels towards the Sun while pointing its antenna towards Earth and on board scientific equipment towards Mars. [iii]

The first Muslim and royal in space, Prince Sultan bin Salman[iv] of Saudi Arabia who was part of the crew of Discovery STS-51G that went into orbit for seven days in 1985, has also endorsed active participation in space mission by nations of the MENA region noting that this would greatly benefit the Muslim world by developing technology and bringing hope and inspiration to a troubled region.

At a Global Aerospace Summit in Abu Dhabi in 2016, Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the Moon exclaimed “I want to bring UAE into a small community which will be working, and I believe, living on the only other habitable planet in our solar system by 2040.”

The challenges that UAE Space Agency may face include completing the development of the space probe well in time for launch, securing measurable economic benefits, ensuring effective transfer of technology, and retaining the trained professional Emirati scientists and engineers for the mission to Mars who may seek other jobs. 

Dr Benton C Clark – Lockheed

The UAE Space Agency plans to maintain an ongoing engagement with academia.

Dr. Benton C. Clarke[v], Chief Scientist, Flight Systems, Lockheed Martin Astronautics at the launch of Emirates Mission to Mars in Abu Dhabi said, “We’d very much like to see them be successful, because it’s always good to have more science at Mars. These missions help each other. It has a lot of broad reaching implications for education. We found in the US when the Space programs first started especially when first astronauts went into space, that many students became interested in science and technology than they had before.”

The Emirates mission to Mars will set a precedent for other space agencies in the Muslim world. UAE government’s bold initiatives have put its space sector into overdrive and the ambitious Mission to Mars will move UAE far ahead of others in the Muslim World.








[i] Daily Life in the Medieval Islamic World By James E. Lindsay (Page 103-4)



[iv] First Arab in Space

[v] Video interview recorded by author at GSSF UAE

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