The United Arab Emirates plans to make history Wednesday with the scheduled launch of the “Hope” mission, which will make it the first Arab nation to send a probe to Mars.
A rocket carrying the unmanned spacecraft is due to take off from Japan’s remote Tanegashima Space Center at 5:51 am local time (2051 GMT Tuesday) although poor weather could delay lift-off until later in a launch window that runs until August 13.
The Emirati project is one of three racing to Mars, including Tianwen-1 from China and Mars 2020 from the United States, taking advantage of the period when the Earth and Mars are nearest: a mere 55 million kilometres (34 million miles) apart.
But unlike the two other ventures, the UAE’s Mars probe will not land on the Red Planet.
“Hope” — or Al-Amal in Arabic — is expected to reach Mars’s orbit by February 2021, marking the 50th anniversary of the unification of the United Arab Emirates, an alliance of seven sheikhdoms.
Once there, it will loop the planet for a whole Martian year — 687 days.
The probe is expected to detach from the launch rocket about an hour after blast-off, which is when the UAE Mars mission’s deputy project manager Sarah al-Amiri said the real excitement will begin.
“In my heart of hearts, I’m looking forward to the initial 24 hours after separation, and that’s where we see the results of our work,” said Amiri, who is also Minister of State for Advanced Sciences.
“It is when we first get the signal, when we know that every part of the spacecraft is functioning, when the solar panels are deployed, when we hit our trajectory and are headed towards Mars,” she told AFP earlier this month.