UAE successfully launches its first interplanetary mission to Mars
The United Arab Emirates has successfully launched its first interplanetary mission. This morning, Al Amal, or the Hope Probe, took off from Japan at 6:58 am Monday 20th July (local time), and is currently headed towards Mars.
After two delays in the past week due to wild weather, the skies finally cleared up enough for launch. Shortly before 7am local time, the rocket took off from the space center on Tanegashima Island in Japan. Soon after, the payload successfully separated from the Mitsubishi H-2A launch vehicle, and the ground station at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre in Dubai received the first signal from the probe.
The Hope probe is expected to arrive at the Red Planet in February 2021 and move itself into orbit. Once there it will study the Martian atmosphere, monitoring things like how much oxygen and hydrogen are lost to space over the course of one Mars year (a bit under two Earth years). The eventual goal is to be the first to provide a complete picture of the layers of the Martian atmosphere.
July is set to be a busy month for Mars-bound launches. In addition to Hope, China’s Tianwen-1, consisting of an orbiter, lander and rover, is currently scheduled to launch on July 23, while NASA’s Perseverance rover, the successor to Curiosity, is due to follow a week later.
The reason for this burst of launch activity is that Earth and Mars are currently at just the right points in their respective orbits where they’re closest together. This window only opens every 26 months, so missing out means a bit of a wait until they can try again. ESA’s latest ExoMars mission was originally slated for July 2020 as well, but has now been pushed back to 2022 – the next such window.
The launch boom also means that we’ll see a flurry of activity in February, as the three spacecraft arrive at the Red Planet. Assuming, that is, that the other two launches go ahead as planned.
Watch the historic launch in the video below.