The United Arab Emirates are the first Arab country to reach Mars

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An Emirati walks past a screen showing the Mars probe “Hope” at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Center in Dubai on July 19, 2020.

GIUSEPPE CACACE | AFP via Getty Images

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – The United Arab Emirates made history as the first Arab country to reach Mars.

Emirates’ Mars mission, dubbed the Hope probe, reached the red planet at 7.42 p.m. (Emirates time) Tuesday and sent its signal back to Earth a little over half an hour later.

“204 days and more than 480 million kilometers later, the #HopeProbe is now in the capture orbit of #Mars”, the official Twitter account of the Hope Mars Mission tweeted shortly afterwards with the hashtag #ArabsToMars.

The feat is monumental. Experts estimate the chance of successfully entering Mars orbit to be around 50%, as more than half of all Mars missions actually fail. The crucial time window was a frightening and exciting 27 minutes, in which the Hope probe had to slow down dramatically from its speed of 100,000 kilometers per hour to 18,000 km / h by firing its six engines for exactly 27 minutes.

This consumed nearly half of its fuel and allowed it to be caught by Mars’ gravity and enter its orbit. There was then a communication delay of about 11 minutes to Earth as the scientists and engineers involved in the project – including about 200 Emiratis – waited eagerly to see if the mission was successful.

The operation had to be carried out with immaculate precision, and the stakes were high – the current period when Earth is closest to the red planet only occurs every two years.

This makes the UAE only the second country to successfully enter Mars orbit on the first attempt, despite attempts having been made since the 1960s. The only other country that has done this is India.

Six years in the making

The Hope probe, a $ 200 million project called Al-Amal in Arabic, was launched on July 20 from the Japanese space station Tanegashima and is now culminating in its journey to Earth’s neighbor. It will now spend a Martian year – the equivalent of 687 days on Earth – studying and collecting data on the atmosphere of the red planet. The year 2021 is also significant: it is the 50th anniversary of the founding of the UAE as a country.

The UAE’s ambitious project was in development for six years and made the little Gulf Sheikh only the fifth country in the world to reach Mars. These missions typically take at least 10 years to plan and plan, said Sarah al-Amiri, state minister for advanced technology and chair of the UAE space agency.

“The first of our challenges was designing a mission to another planet for the first time,” al-Amiri told CNBC’s Dan Murphy earlier this week.

“That included mobilizing our team, who worked on Earth observation satellites but then filled in and bridged the gaps as spaceships orbiting the earth are slightly different from spacecraft heading for other planets,” she said.

“The challenges were technical. We had to make sure the spacecraft would be extremely reliable for its journey. It can envision that the spacecraft’s components can function for the duration of the mission,” she added.

Multicountry effort

The Emirates Mars Mission worked with a team from the University of Colorado Boulder to build the spaceship. In doing so, she relied on the specialist knowledge of the laboratory for atmospheric and space physics at the university. The oil-rich Gulf country itself has invested in space research and development for years and founded its own space agency in 2014 after launching satellites developed together with South Korean partners in 2009 and 2013.

The United Arab Emirates government has launched various campaigns to expand the country’s science, technology, engineering and math sectors, and sees the growing space program as an important part of that. It is also the first country to have an artificial intelligence minister and is heavily investing in its own indigenous defense industry.

“This will be what drives us from this mission on over the next five years: to ensure that there is a very well established and globally networked space sector in the Emirates,” said al-Amiri.