The UAE’s spacecraft — called Hope — is complete and ready for takeoff. If all goes well with its launch, it will travel through space for the next seven months and reach Mars in February 2021. After it arrives, it will attempt to insert itself into orbit around Mars, something only a handful of spacecraft from four international space organizations have been able to achieve.
Know as the Emirates Mars Mission, the project will kickstart a busy summer of missions to Mars. The mission is trying to get off the ground during a very small window this summer when Earth and Mars come closest to one another on their orbits around the Sun. This planetary alignment only happens once every two years, so if any of these missions can’t launch this summer, they’ll have to wait until 2022 to try again.
So far, most of the spacecraft that have been sent to study Mars are tasked with analyzing the planet’s geology by taking high-resolution images of the Martian surface. Only a few Mars satellites are equipped with tools to study the planet’s atmosphere — including NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft and the European Space Agency’s Trace Gas Orbiter — but no mission has been able to get a global view of the Martian atmosphere closer to the surface.
The Hope spacecraft will give scientists a better understanding of what’s happening in Mars’ lower atmosphere all over the planet and help people learn how the weather evolves throughout the year. The UAE is hailing Hope as “Mars’ first weather satellite” since it will monitor the weather throughout the day in as many locations as possible on Mars.
“The UAE wants to support the creation of a creative, innovative, and competitive knowledge-based and post-oil economy,” says Omran Sharaf, the project lead on the mission. “To do that, an advanced and capable science and technology sector is crucial. This mission is a catalyst for change.”