How is the UAE Hope Probe exploring Mars?

HE Mansoor Abulhoul, UAE Ambassador to the UK, reveals how the country's Hope Probe is unlocking the secrets of Mars.

Artist's impression of the UAE Hope Probe at Mars. Credit: UAE Space Agency

Most children, at one time or another, look up at the night sky with big dreams of exploring what lies beyond our small planet.

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Yet when I was growing up in the Emirates, the very idea of my country sending a mission into space was inconceivable. Few people appreciate what a young country we are: the UAE was founded only fifty years ago.

It’s fitting that as we celebrate our Golden Jubilee this year, the Emirates Mars Mission’s Hope Probe has reached the Red Planet.

I find a serendipitous connection between our national history and Mars exploration, as on the very day of our independence on 2 December 1971, the first human-made object to reach Mars – the Soviet Mars-3 Lander – touched down on the surface of the Red Planet.

The Hope probe's first image of Mars, captured from an altitude of 24,700 km above the Martian surface at 20:36 UTC on 10 February 2021, one day after arriving at Mars. Credit: MBRSC/UAE Space Agency
The Hope probe’s first image of Mars, captured from an altitude of 24,700 km above the Martian surface at 20:36 UTC on 10 February 2021, one day after arriving at Mars. Credit: MBRSC/UAE Space Agency

What is the Mars Hope Probe studying?

The Hope Probe’s scientific aim is to build the first full picture of Mars’ climate throughout the Martian year.

The Emirates Mars Mission has four objectives:

  • To search for the connection between current Martian weather and the ancient climate of Mars
  • To study the mechanisms that have driven oxygen and hydrogen out of Mars’s atmosphere
  • To study the connections between the lower and upper atmospheres of Mars
  • To create a global picture of how the Martian atmosphere varies throughout the day, seasons and year.

The Hope Probe is an incredible feat of engineering, weighing 1,350kg and about the size of a small SUV. It completes one orbit of Mars every 55 hours and captures a full planetary data sample every 9 days.

Already we’ve received the Emirates Mars Mission’s first image of Mars, and the spacecraft has provided us with a glimpse of Martian wonder in the form of the first-ever detailed pictures of the aurora around Mars, captured by the Emirates Mars Ultraviolet Spectrometer (EMUS).

The aurora, called discrete aurora, are ultraviolet emissions. They have revolutionary implications for our understanding of interactions between solar radiation, Mars’s magnetic fields and the planetary atmosphere.

Images of Mars’s discrete Aurora captured by the Hope Probe. Credit: UAE Space Agency
Images of Mars’s discrete Aurora captured by the Hope Probe. Credit: UAE Space Agency

The intricate patterns of the discrete aurora trace out the regions where Mars’s crustal magnetic fields act like a funnel to guide fast electrons from space down into the atmosphere, causing it to shimmer in a manner similar to Earth’s Northern Lights.

This influence of localised magnetic fields is a unique feature of the Red Planet as Mars, unlike Earth, does not have a global magnetic field generated by the planet’s core.

The most sensitive ultraviolet instrument yet to orbit Mars, EMUS is able to capture images of these dynamic auroral events globally at high resolution and across a wide range of wavelengths.

Prior images of this phenomenon at this quality had only been available as artist’s impressions.

What does the Hope Probe mean for the UAE?

The Hope Probe ground team pictured at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre in Dubai, 19 July 2020, ahead of the launch of the Emirates Mars Mission. hoto by GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP via Getty Images.
The Hope Probe ground team pictured at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre in Dubai, 19 July 2020, ahead of the launch of the Emirates Mars Mission. hoto by GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP via Getty Images.

As Ambassador, an Emirati, and as someone who has long been fascinated by space, I am awestruck by what has been achieved already by the Emirates Mars Mission, and, like so many of us, excited to see what comes next for our space programme.

Yet the Mission is so much more than a scientific achievement – it is a beacon of hope and progress here on Earth.

The Mission stands for a better and more peaceful future for Emiratis, for our region and for the world.

The Mars Mission offers Arab youth a new vision for the potential in our region. One where knowledge and scientific expertise are freely shared between nations, where women have equal opportunities and can lead teams at the cutting edge of innovation – a vision where everything is possible.

We did not achieve this alone. The Emirates Mars Mission was an international collaboration and received support from around the world; from our knowledge transfer partners in American universities to our launch partners in Japan.

As we develop our space sector, we will be investing in technology development, ideas and startups in the UK and across the globe.

We’ll be bringing new ideas to life through investment and ecosystem development in the Emirates for people from all over the world and will be providing a global platform for commercial opportunity based out of the UAE.

At its heart, the Mars Mission was not about getting to Mars. It’s not even about the important atmospheric data we can gather, although we are enormously proud to be making that contribution to global scientific research.

Instead, it is about accelerating the development of engineering, science, research and innovation in the Emirates and beyond.

It’s about evolving a nation’s mindset; about developing and enshrining an attitude towards risk-taking. We want to spark a new and vibrant expansion of space systems, science, development and research.

Fifty years ago, at the birth of our nation, we could not have conceived that we could reach another planet. Even during my own childhood, full of wonder at the night sky, I never thought the Emirates would make it to Mars.

What makes me most proud is that today, millions of young children – Arab and otherwise, my own included – know that we can.

That is a reason for Hope.

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His Excellency Mansoor Abulhoul is the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE’s) Ambassador to the UK.