UAE’s Space program, Mars mission, and Satellites. All you need to know.

The United Arab Emirates Space Program is an initiative launched in the country, under which the UAE prepares young Emirati cadres specialized in Airspace sciences. Launching the national space program is part of the UAE’s ambitious plan of reaching Mars by 2021 and building the first settlement on Mars by 2117. There are a few missions targeted under the space program, these include; the Mars mission, Satellite program, and the Astronaut program. This piece will be focused on these three space programs of the UAE.

The Emirates Institution for Advanced Science and Technology (EIAST) was established on 6th February 2006 by the vice president and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai, Muhammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum. Later on the 17th April 2015, the Muhammad Bin Rashid Space Center (MBRSC) was created, blending EAIST into it.

MBRSC

Muhammad Bin Rashid Space Center (MBRSC), formerly known as the Emirates Institution for Advanced Science and Technology (EAIST) Is a UAE organization founded in 2006. It is home to the UAE national space program. It represents the need of the UAE to acquire the technology, needed to develop satellites and the continuous need for spatial information and Earth observation data of the UAE as well as on a global scale.

The vision of MBRSC is to introduce a space program on a national level by supporting university projects to stimulate interest in a problem‐solving multi‐disciplinary technical environment, leading eventually to an indigenous and sustained space program of UAE.  

UAE’s Mars Mission

The Emirates Mars mission is also known as “Hope Probe” (Amal in Arabic). In 2014, the United Arab Emirates announced that it plans to send a mission to Mars to mark the country’s 50th birthday in December 2021, but then it looked like a game of crossing limits. At that time, the country neither had a single space agency nor a planetary scientist; it had only recently launched its first satellite. A team of engineers was then rapidly assembled to bring the project to reality. Six years on, the result has been overwhelming, progressing from Earth-orbiting satellites to a deep-space mission in six years is exceptionally incredible. It was a moment of admiration when the fully assembled Mars orbiter underwent tests in February 2020, the car-sized orbiter was tested in a bright, clean room at the MBRSC headquarters in Dubai by engineers to be sure of its readiness before shipping it to the Tenegashima Space Centre in Japan. It was finally launched on the 19th of July 2020and is planned to reach the Mars orbit in February 2021.

The Emirates Mars mission is the first interplanetary venture of any Arab nation, the mission is not just a technology demonstrator, it reflects a broader ambition in the UAE to drive innovation in science and technology and diversify the economy of the tiny but oil-rich nation. For Emirati scientists, and leaders, the mission represents a new chapter for a part of the world with a rich history of scientific discovery. Once the orbiter arrives Mars (also known as the Red Planet) in February 2021, it will produce the first global map of the Martian atmosphere and will release its data to the international scientific community without an embargo, which is somewhat unusual for a Space mission. It will help provide the answer to key questions about the global Martian atmosphere and the loss of hydrogen and oxygen gases into space over one Martian year (equivalent to two years on earth).

For Emiratis, Space science goals come second. The small, oil-rich Gulf state which is faced with environmental challenges hopes the Mars project can accelerate its transformation into a knowledge economy – by encouraging research and degree programs in basic sciences, and inspiring the youths across the Arab states. Like major ports and road ventures before it, the Mars mission is a mega-project designed to cause “a big shift in the mindset”, says Oman Sharaf, the mission’s project manager. The driver of the project “is not Space, it is economic”, he added.

The design, development, and operations of the Mars mission are led by the MBRSC. The spacecraft designed for the mission was developed as a collaboration between the MBRSC and the LASP (Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics) at the University of Colorado Boulder, with support from Arizona State University (ASU) and the University of California, Berkely, the final assembling was done at the University of Colorado. 

The UAE's Mars Orbiter
The UAE’s Mars Orbiter

Scientific Objectives of the UAE’s Mars Mission

The Hope probe will help provide a complete picture of the Martian atmosphere which will assist in the following ways;

  • To understand climate dynamics and the global weather map through characterizing the lower atmosphere of Mars.
  • To explain how the weather changes the escape of hydrogen and Oxygen through correlating the lower atmospheric conditions with the upper atmosphere.
  • To understand the structure and variability of hydrogen and oxygen in the upper atmosphere, as well as identifying why Mars is losing them into space.

Strategic Objectives of the UAE’s Mars mission

As mentioned earlier, the mission is not just a technology demonstrator, it reflects a broader ambition in the UAE to drive innovation in science and technology and diversify the economy of the nation. Below are the strategic objectives the mission is targeted to address;

  • To improve the quality of life on Earth by pushing the nation’s limits to make new discoveries
  • To build scientific knowledge. It is a fact that a sustainable, future proof economy is a knowledge-based economy.
  • To encourage global collaboration in Mars exploration to demonstrate leadership in space research
  • To inspire future Arab generations to pursue space science
  • To build Emirati capabilities in the field of interplanetary exploration
  • To establish the UAE’s position as a beacon of progress in the region.

Hope probe Science instruments

Three basic science instruments have been designed to study the different aspects of the Martian atmosphere, they are;

  • The EMIRS (Emirates Mars Infrared Spectrometer)
  • The EXI (Emirates Exploration imager)
  • The EMUS (Emirates Mars Ultraviolet spectrometer)

Each of these instruments has its individual functions which contribute to the success of the probe’s functionality, the individual functions are listed below;

EMIRS (Emirates Mars Infrared Spectrometer)

Its functions are;

  • It studies the lower atmosphere of the Red planet in the infrared band
  • Measures the global distribution of dust, ice clouds, water vapors, and temperature profiles
  • Provides the linkages from the lower to the upper atmosphere in conjunction with EMUS and EXI observations

EXI (Emirates Exploration imager)

Its functions are;

  • It studies the lower atmosphere of the Red Planet in visible and ultraviolet bands
  • Provides visible images of mars during the atmosphere
  • Measures the optical depth of water ice in the atmosphere
  • Captures high-resolution images of mars
  • Measures the column abundance of ozone

The EMUS (Emirates Mars Ultraviolet spectrometer)

its functions are;

  • It detects Ultraviolet wavelengths
  • Measures the relative changes in the atmosphere
  • Calculates the three-dimensional structure and variability of oxygen and hydrogen in the exosphere
  • Determines the abundance and variability of carbon monoxide and oxygen in the thermosphere on sub-seasonal timescales.

Why Mars

UAE Space Agency posted on its website as to why Mars is the target. It wrote;

The Red Planet has captured the human imagination for centuries. After decades of exploration, we consider Mars to be the closest habitable planet with proximity to Earth. While other planets are even closer to Earth, none of them have features like Mars has, to potentially sustain life, some of these features are:

  • Its soil contains water
  • It has a tolerable climate
  • It receives enough sunlight to power solar panels
  • Its gravity is sufficient for the human body to adapt to
  • It has various seasons and its day and night breakup is almost equivalent to that experienced on Earth.

Beyond our search for life on Mars, it also offers us the opportunity to understand the origin and evolution of the climatic and geological process that has shaped its current state and if it applies to other planets in the solar system. Many of the missions sent to Mars have shown us that it was habitable in the past. Understanding the evolution of Mars’ surface and atmosphere could help us predict the future of our planet.

UAE Satellite Program

With the UAE venturing into the Space science and technology sector, the UAE Satellite Program has been a priority to the nation’s steadily achieved mission in the sector. MBRSC’s strategy has been to focus on scientific and technological innovations to advance knowledge-based progress in the nation.

In the year 2006, MBRSC was assigned the task to develop the UAE’s first satellite. A team of Emirati Engineers was sent to South Korea, sponsored by the UAE as part of a knowledge transfer program. Within the next decade, working in handy with the South Korean experts, the MBRSC satellite engineers were able to design and manufacture the country’s first Nanosatellite; Nayif-1 as well as its first two observations satellites; DubaiSat-1 and DubaiSat-2 which were launched in 2009 and 2013 respectively.

In October 2018, the first 100% UAE designed and manufactured Earth observation satellite was launched “the highly sophisticated KhilafaSat which was celebrated as a historical milestone. KhilafaSat elevated the UAE’s position amongst the world’s leading space technology manufacturers. With which we nation also plays a role in actively contributing valuable satellite imaging data to human progress. The UAEs satellite spacecraft operations are conducted by Mission Control Centre (MSC) at MBRSC’s headquarters in Dubai. MBRSC plans and operates the missions, monitors, and commands the satellites, and is also in charge of receiving, processing, and distribution of satellite imagery for analysis.

DubaiSat-1

DubaiSat-1 is a remote sensing mini-satellite project of MBRSC. To successfully launch the DubaiSat-1, it was glaring that facilities were needed (a ground segment and some infrastructure) as well as international collaborations to make spaceflight possible.

The contract was won by SI (Satrec Initiative co. ltd.) of Daejeon, Korea. This was in May 2006. The objectives were to design and develop a small satellite along with an imaging payload. It also included another objective to provide a TTP (Technology Transfer Program) involving the training of a team of 10 young engineers and scientists from the UAE. The overall requirements call for a sun-synchronous LEO (Low Earth Orbit) imaging mission providing high-resolution panchromatic and multispectral imagery in the visible range to be used for several applications. The government of Dubai intends to use the data in such fields in urban and infrastructure planning and disaster monitoring

DubaiSat-1 was launched on July 29, 2009, in Baikonur, Kazakhstan. The launch provider for DubaiSat-1 was ISC (International Space Company) Kosmotras of Moscow, Russia (Dnepr vehicle).

DubaiSat-2

DubaiSat-2 is the second Earth observation minisatellite that the country has developed. EIAST started the DubaiSat-2 development in 2009 in collaboration with SI (Satrec Initiative) of Daejeon, Korea, and in continuation of the DubaiSat-1 project. As a part of developing local science talent, EIAST engineers with various academic backgrounds participated actively in the DubaiSat-2 project. They played active and crucial roles throughout the entire development phases covering all technical aspects. DubaiSat-2 is considered to be technologically more advanced than its predecessor.

on November 21, 2013, the DubaiSat-2 minisatellite (primary payload) was launched on a Dnepr vehicle from the Dombarovsky (Yasny Cosmodrome) launch site in Russia. The launch provider was ISC Kosmotras. EIAST signed a contract with ISC Kosmotras of Moscow in February 2011. The launch of this mission has been delayed several times for over a year. The reasons for the long delay remain unclear and seem to be an internal matter.

KhilafaSat

KhalifaSat also called DubaiSat-3, is a follow-up Earth observation mission in the successful DubaiSat series of MBRSC. One of the project goals was to develop and build the satellite in UAE under the consultancy of SI (Satrec Initiative) of Daejeon, Korea, the manufacturer of DubaiSat-1 and -2. Emirati experts and engineers were involved in the planning and designing of the KhalifaSat program, which is expected to strengthen the standing of the Arab region in the competitive field of space science.

KhalifaSat was conceived ass the next mission of EIAST. The project team from EIAST presented the plans in early 2014. By 15the of October 2014, EIAST was able to announce the completion of the satellite design after Critical Design Review(CDR). KhalifaSat was initially being developed at Satrec Initiative in Korea. Once, the new EIAST facilities were ready in 2015, the development of the spacecraft was shifted to the UAE.

The KhalifaSat spacecraft was launched on 29 October 2018 on an H-IIA launch vehicle of MHI from TNSC (Tanegashima Launch Center), Japan, as a secondary payload to GOSAT-2/Ibuki-2 of JAXA.

UAE Astronut Program

Like many of the major development projects of the country, the UAE Astronaut Programme was also the brainchild of the UAE government to put itself in the world map of progress. The UAE Astronaut Programme was initiated in April 2017 to prepare an Emirati astronaut corps for scientific space exploration missions, creating a culture of scientific endeavor and motivating the youth to pursue space science and technology.

Over 4000 applications were received. From the lot, In 2018, the first two Emirati astronauts, Hazzaa AlMansoori and Sultan AlNeyadi were handpicked. With space heroes such as these, future generations of UAE scientists and engineers are now being inspired to make STEM subjects their focus and to build a career in this dynamic and exciting industry.

This is one of the projects managed by the UAE’s National Space Programme. The projects are funded by the ICT Fund of the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA), which aims to support research and development in the ICT sector in the UAE and promote the country’s integration on the global stage.

Objectives of the UAE Astronaut Programme

  • The UAE Astronaut Programme aims to prepare cadres of astronauts according to the highest international standards.
  • Support the UAE’s vision of a prosperous future based on knowledge and scientific research
  • Strengthen the UAE’s position in the international space sector by contributing to manned space missions.
  • The UAE Astronaut Programme aims to develop national scientific corps and prepare a national team of astronauts.
  • Encourage and inspire young generations to be successful in STEM subjects.
  • Contribute to scientific exploration missions by developing a corps of Emirati astronauts.
  • Promote a culture of research and passion for exploration and innovation.

Meet the UAE astronauts 

UAE astronauts - Hazzaa Ali Almansori and Sultan Saif Alneyadi
Left: Hazzaa Ali Almansori. Right: Sultan Saif Alneyadi

Hazzaa Ali Almansoori

UAE astronaut, AlMansoori graduated from Khalifa bin Zayed Air College from where he made his way to becoming an F16 pilot. After 14 years of experience in military aviation, AlMansoori made history as the first Emirati to be deployed on a space mission to the International Space Station.

Sultan Saif Alneyadi

UAE astronaut, AlNeyadi holds a Ph.D. in Information Technology and a Masters degree in Information and Network Security from Griffith University. Previously a UAE military network security engineer, AlNeyadi is a member of the back-up team for the 2019 mission to ISS.

In Conclusion

The Space program is a great stepping stone for the UAE as its space program is no doubt a top-notch in the world today.

A Mars mission is many times more complex than parking a satellite into a low-Earth orbit. Historically, around half of the trips to the red planet have failed. A Mars-bound craft needs to be largely autonomous to deal with the communications delay to Earth (as long as 22 minutes). It must also be able to survive the extreme forces of lift-off and employ sophisticated propulsion and navigations systems to get into Martian orbit, none of which the UAE had expertise in. “You can’t wake up and say I want to go to Mars. I want to build a spacecraft. You have to really learn it,” says Belhoul.

To achieve this, the country tapped into foreign expertise, using a model that had shown success before. In 2007, the UAE had hired South Korean firm Satrec Initiative to design and build its first satellites, with the understanding that the company would also train Emirati engineers. By 2018, the UAE was able to launch a satellite designed and built entirely at home.

Applying the same process to the Mars mission, the UAE hired old hands from NASA missions, mainly at the University of Colorado Boulder, to work alongside them and provide training in how to send a probe to another planet.

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