The historical spacecraft of UAE, called Amal, is set to enter into the orbit around Mars as part of the Arab world’s first interplanetary mission.
Amal, which is Arabic for Hope, traveled 300 million miles in nearly seven months to get to Mars with the goal of mapping its atmosphere throughout each season. For the UAE, it is the country’s first venture beyond Earth’s orbit, making the flight a matter of intense national pride.
For days, landmarks across the UAE, including Burj Khalifa, the tallest tower on Earth, glowed red to mark Amal’s anticipated arrival. This year is the 50th anniversary of the country’s founding, casting even more attention on Amal. It is set to join six spacecraft already operating around Mars including three from the US, two from Europe and one from India.
Amal was expected to perform an intricate, high-stakes series of turns and engine firings to maneuver into orbit and achieve what has eluded so many before. “Anything that slightly goes wrong and you lose the spacecraft,” said Sarah al-Amiri, minister of state for advanced technology and the chair of the UAE’s space agency.
A success would be a tremendous boost to the UAE’s space ambitions. The country’s first astronaut rocketed into space in 2019, hitching a ride to the International Space Station (ISS) with the Russians. That’s 58 years after the Soviet Union and the US launched astronauts.
In developing Amal, the UAE chose to collaborate with more experienced partners instead of going it alone or buying the spacecraft elsewhere. Its engineers and scientists worked with researchers at the University of Colorado, the University of California and Arizona State University. The car-size Amal cost $200 million to build and launch excluding the operating costs at Mars.
2 other arrivals on Mars this month
The arrival of the spacecraft in Mars’ orbit marks the 1st of 3 robotic explorers arriving at the red planet over the next week and a half. A combination orbiter and lander from China is close behind, scheduled to reach the planet on 10th February. It will circle Mars until the rover separates and attempts to land on the surface in May to look for signs of ancient life.
A rover from the US named Perseverance is set to join the crowd next week, aiming for a landing February 18. It will be the first leg in a decade-long US-European project to bring Mars rocks back to Earth to be examined for evidence the planet once harbored microscopic life.
All three spacecraft on the way to the red planet lifted off within days of one another, taking advantage of the close alignment of Earth and Mars, which is the reason for their close arrival times.
About 60 percent of all Mars missions have ended in failure, crashing, burning up or otherwise falling short displaying the complexity of interplanetary travel and the difficulty of making a descent through Mars’ thin atmosphere.