UAE Space Agency Announces New Emirati Interplanetary Mission

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New Mission to Explore the Asteroid Belt Beyond Mars will be Constructed with Emirati Private Sector Participation

Dubai, UAE: The United Arab Emirates Space Agency today announced the commencement of a new Emirati interplanetary mission, designed to further accelerate the young nation’s space engineering, scientific research and exploration capabilities and drive innovation and opportunity in the country’s private sector.

“We have set our eyes to the stars because our journey to development and progress has no boundaries, no borders and no limitations. Today we are investing in the generations to come.” said Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai. “With each new advancement we make in space, we create opportunities for young people here on earth.”

Built on the knowledge and experience gained from the Emirates Mars Mission (EMM), the new mission will involve significant participation from Emirati private sector companies. It is scheduled for launch in 2028, with the primary goal of exploring the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, the source of most meteorites that impact earth.

Mohamed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the United Arab Emirates Armed Forces, said: “This new mission tests and extends the capabilities of Emirati youth in achieving Zayed’s ambition to explore space. We are certain that our talented local engineers, academic and research institutions, which have so far made quantum leaps in developing our space sector, are well equipped to take on this daring new challenge.”

The spacecraft will undertake a 3.6 billion-kilometre, five-year journey, which will see it perform gravity assist manoeuvres by orbiting first Venus, then Earth in order to build the velocity required in order to reach the main asteroid belt, located beyond Mars. Its trajectory around Venus will see it reaching a solar proximity of 109 million kilometres, requiring substantial thermal protection and a furthest distance from the sun of 448 million kilometres, requiring high levels of insulation and spacecraft operation with minimal levels of available solar energy.

Through its journey, it will study seven main belt asteroids. It will be built using the substantial heritage and intellectual property (IP) acquired during the development of the Emirates Mars Mission and its Hope Probe, currently orbiting Mars and gathering unique data on Mars’ atmospheric composition and interactions.

Sarah Al Amiri, Chair of the UAE Space Agency, said: “Our goal is clear: to accelerate the development of innovation and knowledge-based enterprises in the Emirates. This can’t be done by going steady-state, this requires leaps in imagination, in faith and the pursuit of goals that go beyond prudent or methodical. When we embarked on the Emirates Mars Mission, we took on a six-year task that was in the order of five times more complex than the earth observation satellites we were developing. This mission is in the order of five times more complex than EMM.”

The mission will make its first close planetary approach orbiting Venus in mid-2028, followed by a close orbit of Earth in mid-2029. It will make its first fly-by of a main asteroid belt object in 2030, going on to observe a total of seven main belt asteroids before its final landing on an asteroid 560 million kilometres from Earth in 2033. This will make the Emirates the fourth nation to land a spacecraft on an asteroid.

The mission brings extensive challenges that go beyond EMM in terms of spacecraft design and engineering, interplanetary navigation and complex systems integration, requiring new levels of performance from its communications, power and propulsion systems as well as demanding intensive mission control. The precise science goals and instrumentation to be deployed on the mission are to be announced in mid-2022.

The mission is to be developed in partnership with the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) at the University of Colorado, Boulder. LASP was the primary knowledge transfer partner for EMM, bringing over seventy years’ experience in spacecraft and instrumentation design and development and helping advise, train and develop the team of Emirati engineers, software developers and scientists who worked on EMM, many of whom will go on to work on this new mission.

Five initiatives are being launched around the new mission by the UAE Space Agency to accelerate the development of the UAE’s space sector:

  • A fully funded program to establish Emirati space sector businesses.
  • Priority access to contracts and procurement for the mission by Emirati companies.
  • A vocational training program to train young Emiratis on component assembly and space subsystems engineering.
  • A program to bring local and international universities and research centres together to work on the mission, including LASP and Emirates University.

About the Emirates in Space:

The Emirates’ journey to space started in 1997, with the launch of the country’s first communications satellite, Thuraya. In 2006, it went from satellite operator to constructing its own satellites with the foundation of what is today the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) and the commencement of its knowledge transfer partnership with South Korean company Satrec-I. Having developed two earth-observation satellites with Satrec, MBRSC in 2018 launched its first 100% Emirati-designed and built satellite, Khalifasat.

In 2014, the Emirates Mars Mission was announced, conceived to disrupt and accelerate the United Arab Emirates’ space sector through shaping a scientific community and boosting Emirati advanced engineering, space science research and innovation. EMM’s Hope Probe aims to build the first full picture of Mars’s climate throughout the Martian year and reached Mars orbit in 2021, the 50th anniversary of the foundation of the UAE, which became an independent nation on December 2, 1971.

The UAE Space Agency was launched in 2014, to organise, regulate and support the space sector in the Emirates and is the funding body behind EMM and the Emirates’ new mission to the main asteroid belt.