The United Arab Emirates is one step closer to becoming an interplanetary country with the successful launch of the. The Hope, or Al Amal, probe has taken off from Tanegashima, Japan, with an assist from a Mitsubishi rocket booster.
As with all rocket launches, this one started with a countdown. But like many aspects of the mission, it was historic. For the first time, those 10 seconds to launch were broadcast in Arabic. The mission was not without its hiccups earlier with weather in Japan. And a bigger issue, the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic, has hovered over the mission.
“The pandemic was not something we had in the program,” Fahad Al Mehri, executive director of the space sector at the UAE space agency, said during a live broadcast. “It’s not something we could engineer ourselves around.”
The pandemic was only a lingering thought and the skies were clear for the launch Right before 3 p.m. Pacific time Sunday/2 a.m. UAE time Monday/7 a.m. Japan time Monday, the Mitsubishi rocket booster made a picture-perfect departure from the Tanegashima Space Center.
“Just before the launch, there was pin drop silence,” Faraz Javed, a reporter at the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center, said during a live broadcast. “Once the rocket took off there were cheers, there was joy — I actually even saw people crying.”
The rocket punched through the blue to the upper layers of the atmosphere, and the first stage boosters separated cleanly. At around 3:55 p.m. PT, the Hope probe separated from the Mitsubishi rocket booster to light applause from the launch center in Japan. The separation placed the car-sized probe into a transfer orbit that will carry it around 500 million kilometers (310 million miles) to the red planet.
Provided the journey is a smooth one, the probe will arrive at Mars in about seven months.
The spacecraft is destined to take up residence in Mars orbit to “study the dynamics in the Martian atmosphere on a global scale, and on both diurnal and seasonal timescales,” according to the UAE Space Agency’s Emirates Mars Mission website. The probe is also equipped to take high-resolution photos of the red planet.
While large agencies like NASA, the European Space Agency and Roscosmos tend to hog the limelight, the UAE Space Agency is helping show that there’s room for smaller programs to make a mark on space exploration.
Hope isaiming to launch within a window of opportunity when Earth and Mars are in optimal positions in relation to each other. NASA at the end of July, while China is also set to send off its later this month.
If these missions move ahead as scheduled, then it will be a busy February for Mars watchers. Hope has earned the distinction of being the first of the three to start the epic journey.
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